The Trump administration has overturned the policy of its predecessor on military service by transgender individuals. The reversal of policy, including the limited instances in which the prior policy will be honored, strikes me as sound. However, I lack the expertise to have a view that should be taken seriously by others. The same is true of the judges who, in another sign that the country is headed in the wrong direction, will scrutinize the administration’s judgment on this matter of military preparedness and effectiveness.
By contrast, the Secretary of Defense, General Mattis, knows what he is talking about. So does the panel he set up to consider the issue of military service by transgender individuals. Here is the full text of the February 22, 2018 memorandum and report he sent to President Trump that forms the basis for the reversal of the Obama administration’s policy. Below is the essence of Secretary Mattis’ memorandum:
“Transgender” is a term describing those persons whose gender identity differs from their biological sex. A subset of transgender persons diagnosed with gender dysphoria experience discomfort with their biological sex, resulting in significant distress or difficulty functioning. Persons diagnosed with gender dysphoria often seek to transition their gender through prescribed medical treatments intended to relieve the distress and impaired functioning associated with their diagnosis.
Prior to your election, the previous administration adopted a policy that allowed for accession and retention in the Armed Forces of transgender persons who had a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria. The policy also created a procedure by which such Service members could change their gender.
This policy was a departure from decades-long military personnel policy. On June 30, 2017, before the new standards were set to take effect, I approved the recommendation of the Services to delay for an additional six months the implementation of these standards to evaluate more carefully their impact on readiness and lethality. To that end, I established a study group that included the representatives of the Service Secretaries and senior military officers, many with combat experience, to conduct the review.
While this review was ongoing, on August 25, 2017, you sent me and the Secretary of Homeland Security a memorandum expressing your concerns that the previous administration’s new policy “failed to identify a sufficient basis” for changing longstanding policy and that “further study is needed to ensure that continued implementation of last year’s policy change would not have. . .negative effects.”
You then directed the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security to reinstate the preexisting policy concerning accession of transgender individuals “until such time as a sufficient basis exists to conclude that terminating that policy” would not “hinder military effectiveness and lethality, disrupt unit cohesion, or tax military resources.”. . .
I created a Panel of Experts comprised of senior uniformed and civilian Defense Department and U.S. Coast Guard leaders and directed them to consider this issue and develop policy proposals based on data, as well as their professional military judgment, that would enhance the readiness, lethality, and effectiveness of our military. This Panel included combat veterans to ensure that our military purpose remained the foremost consideration. I charged the Panel to provide its best military advice, based on increasing the lethality and readiness of America’s armed forces, without regard to any external factors.
The Panel met with and received input from transgender Service members, commanders of transgender Service members, military medical professionals, and civilian professionals with experience in the care and treatment of individuals with gender dysphoria. The Panel also reviewed available information on gender dysphoria, the treatment of gender dysphoria, and the effects of currently serving individuals with gender dysphoria on military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and resources. Unlike previous reviews on military service by transgender individuals, the Panel’s analysis was informed by the Department’s own data obtained since the new policy began to take effect last year.
Based on the work of the Panel and the Department’s best military judgment, the Department of Defense concludes that there are substantial risks associated with allowing the accession and retention of individuals with a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria and require, or have already undertaken, a course of treatment to change their gender.
Furthermore, the Department also finds that exempting such persons from well-established mental health, physical health, and sex-based standards, which apply to all Service members, including transgender Service members without gender dysphoria, could undermine readiness, disrupt unit cohesion, and impose an unreasonable burden on the military that is not conducive to military effectiveness and lethality.
The prior administration largely based its policy on a study prepared by the RAND National Defense Research Institute; however, that study contained significant shortcomings. It referred to limited and heavily caveated data to support its conclusions, glossed over the impacts of healthcare costs, readiness, and unit cohesion, and erroneously relied on selective experiences of foreign militaries with different operational requirements than our own. In short, this policy issue has proven more complex than the prior administration or RAND assumed.
I firmly believe that compelling behavioral health reasons require the Department to proceed with caution before compounding the significant challenges inherent in treating gender dysphoria with the unique, highly stressful circumstances of military training and combat operations. Preservation of unit cohesion, absolutely essential to military effectiveness and lethality, also reaffirms this conclusion.
Therefore, in light of the Panels’ professional military and my own professional judgment, the Department should adopt the following policies:
* Transgender persons with a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria are disqualified from military service military service, except under the following limited circumstances: (1) if they have been stable for 36 consecutive months in their biological sex prior to accession; (2) Service members diagnosed with gender dysphoria after entering service may be retained if they do not require a change of gender and remain deployable within applicable retention standards; and (3) currently serving Service members who have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria since the previous administration’s policy took effect and prior to the effective date of this new policy, 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.
* 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.
I have consulted with the Secretary of Homeland Security, and she agrees with these proposed policies.
By its very nature, military service requires sacrifice. The men and women who serve voluntarily accept limitations on their personal liberties — freedom of speech, political activity, freedom of movement — in order to provide the military lethality and readiness necessary to ensure American citizens enjoy their personal freedoms to the fullest extent. Further, personal characteristics, including age, mental acuity, and physical fitness — among others — matter to field a lethal and ready force.
In my professional judgment, these policies will place the Department of Defense in the strongest position to protect the American people, to fight and win America’s wars, and to ensure the survival and success of our Service members around the world. The attached report provided by the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness includes a detailed analysis of the factors and consideration forming the basis of the Department’s policy proposals.
I therefore respectfully recommend you revoke your memorandum of August 25, 2017 regarding Military Service by Transgender Individuals, thus allowing me and the Secretary of Homeland Security with respect tot he U.S. Coast Guard to implement appropriate policies concerning military service by transgender persons.