Brief #16—Civil Rights

Policy Summary
On July 26, 2017, President Donald Trump announced on his Twitter account a reinstatement of a ban on transgender persons from serving in the United States Armed Forces. The President’s full statement reads, “After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.” President’s Trump ban is a reversal of policy that had been approved under the Obama Administration and which was waiting to be implemented by the Defense Department. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

President Trump’s surprise decision is not supported by academic studies and medical research. His decision claims to be based on medical costs and disruption to military readiness but studies have disproven these claims. A Rand Corporation study in 2016 commissioned by the Department of Defense found that allowing transgender persons to serve would have a “minimal impact” on health care costs. The same study also examined 18 countries that permitted transgender persons to serve and found “no negative impact on operational readiness, effectiveness or cohesion.” President Trump’s decision simply ignores the facts to reach an arbitrary decision. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Update: On August 29, 2017, Secretary of Defense James Mattis issued a statement that he is in receipt of President Trump’s Memorandum banning transgender peoples from serving in the U.S. Armed Forces and its directive to comply with the statement President Trump made regarding this on July 26, 2017.

The Secretary of Defense’s statement that a study and implementation plan will be developed appears to be another attempt to distort facts to reach a conclusion the President and his team prefer. While it is admirable that Secretary Mattis will allow current transgender troops to continue to serve, a new study will accomplish nothing. As previously written in this brief, transgender troops will have minimal impact on health care costs and their service, as found by 18 nations studying the issue, found no negative impact on combat effectiveness. Another study won’t change that conclusion unless President Trump and Secretary Mattis intend to fabricate the study to get the result that they want so they can justify their discriminatory action.

Update No. 2: On Monday, October 30, 2017, United States District Court Judge Colleen Kollar – Kotelly issued a preliminary ruling that blocked provisions of a policy that did not allow the enlistment and retention of transgender peoples from serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. President Donald J. Trump had announced the controversial policy in a July 26, 2017 tweet. The most interesting portion of the ruling was the judge’s criticism of the President. In her ruling she stated, “All of the reasons proffered by the President for excluding transgender individuals from the military in this case were not merely unsupported, but were actually contradicted by the studies, conclusions and judgment of the military itself.” Her ruling is just another repudiation of a boastful President who has offered questionable facts and statements far, far too many times for a person occupying the Oval Office. LEARN MORE

Update No. 3: On March 23, 2018, President Donald J. Trump issued a memorandum to the Secretary of Defense disqualifying from military service transgender persons with a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria. The memorandum revoked President Trump’s prior August 29, 2017 memorandum banning transgender persons from serving although this memorandum is not any different in substance. Mark Stern reports in an article on that the impetus for the move came from Vice – President Michael Pence, who has long been an opponent of transgender persons serving in the military. The Vice – President issued a report that shows how medical costs and operational readiness would become a burden because of transgender persons serving but the report is seen as being written to accommodate their pre-conceived notions against transgender military service. Luckily, some Republican leaders in Congress are refusing to fall in line and follow President Trump and Vice – President Pence’s new policy. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), a member of the Armed Services Committee, has broken ranks and announced that she supports transgender persons serving in the armed forces. This new policy will likely be challenged in the courts so the battle is far from over. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Update No. 4: On January 4, 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued an unsigned order that lifted a federal district court injunction that barred the government from instituting President Trump’s plan to limit military service for transgender persons.

The appeals court ruling reasoned that the lower court’s ruling blocking President Trump’s plan made an erroneous finding that the administration’s plan was “the equivalent of a blanket ban on transgender service.” The appeals court noted that President’s Trump plan had been revised before and that the most recent revision permitted a small number of transgender persons to continue to serve in the armed forces but still banned new transgender troops from joining. What is notable about the ruling is when the appeals court made a distinction with the term “blanket ban” and the sentence “not all transgender persons seek to transition to their preferred gender.” This might infer that the government might be willing to let transgender persons serve in the military so long as the government does not have to contribute funds for the person’s sex – reassignment surgery. In addition to the funding issue, this also raises the question as to whether the government is trying to force transgender persons to serve if they are only classified in their birth sex.

The ruling is only one in a number of cases around the country that are challenging the President’s plan. While this case addressed a number of issues, there are still a number of other cases to rule on the merits of the plan, which might lead to conflicting legal determinations. The case seems likely headed to the Supreme Court for a ruling on the issue. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Engagement Resources:

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) – non – profit group supporting transgender rights.

National Center for Transgender Equality – non – profit group promoting transgender equality.

This brief was compiled by Rod Maggay. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact

Photo by Chris Johnson

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