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Trump Moves Ahead with Ban on Most Transgender Service Members

WASHINGTON -- With pending lawsuits blocking implementation, the Trump administration released tonight its decision to enshrine in policy a ban on most transgender service members in the military.

"Today, the president rescinded his previous memorandum on transgender service in the military in order to allow Secretary Mattis to implement a new policy developed through extensive study by senior uniformed and civilian leaders, including combat veterans," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement this evening. "The experts’ study sets forth a policy to enhance our military’s readiness, lethality, and effectiveness. On the advice of these experts, the secretary of Defense and the secretary of Homeland Security have concluded that the accession or retention of individuals with a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria — those who may require substantial medical treatment, including through medical drugs or surgery — presents considerable risk to military effectiveness and lethality."

"This new policy will enable the military to apply well-established mental and physical health standards — including those regarding the use of medical drugs — equally to all individuals who want to join and fight for the best military force the world has ever seen," Sanders said.

A federal judge this week ordered the administration to reveal the names of the experts comprising the panel behind the new policy; the administration has claimed executive privilege requires it to turn only minimal information over to the court.

The Pentagon document on the study doesn't name the experts, only reiterating that the panel included senior uniformed and civilian DoD leaders and combat veterans.

Defense Secretary James Mattis concluded in his February recommendation that there were "substantial risks" incurred by letting transgender members of the military serve, and that it "could undermine readiness, disrupt unit cohesion, and impose an unreasonable burden on the military that is not conducive to military effectiveness and lethality." The panel dismissed the findings of a RAND Corp. report that shaped the Obama administration's policy on transgender service members, in part taking issue with that study's citing of foreign militaries' success with transgender troops.

Under the new policy, transgender individuals are disqualified from military service unless they switched back to identifying with their biological gender for at least the past three years or they "do not require a change of gender and remain deployable within applicable retention standards." Current transgender service members who transitioned since the Obama-era policy went into effect and before the Trump policy scrubbed that "may continue to serve in their preferred gender and receive medically necessary treatment for gender dysphoria."

"Transgender persons who require or have undergone gender transition are disqualified from military service," Mattis added. "Transgender persons without a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria, who are otherwise qualified for service, may serve, like all other service members, in their biological sex."

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen concurred with the recommendations for the Coast Guard, he said.

Estimates on the number of transgender troops currently serving range from 4,000 up to 15,000, with thousands of those serving before the Obama administration policy was enacted that allowed them to serve openly and receive related medical treatments.

While the study was being conducted, six separate federal courts issued rulings blocking implementation of the transgender ban. At least one transgender recruit was accepted via court order. The Pentagon said it will continue to abide by the court injunctions and allow transgender service members while the multiple lawsuits brought by current and former troops make their way through court.

Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin declared that “Donald Trump and Mike Pence are pushing their extreme anti-transgender prejudices onto the military over the overwhelming objections of bipartisan officials, national security leaders and the American public."

"We will never stop fighting this discriminatory policy until every current and future transgender service member is treated equally and respected fully for their bravery," he said.

The HRC recently launched an ad quoting support for transgender troops from veteran Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) tweeted that the ban was "stupid bigotry."

"As a veteran who served on active duty, we focused on the mission," he said. "We didn't care if you were transgender, bald, gay, or had freckles. No evidence a trans sniper is less accurate or a trans pilot is less effective."