How Trump Lost the Transgender Military Issue

By Allen Watson

Through a series of tweets in July, Donald Trump surprised many, including his military leaders, by announcing a ban on transgender people in the military. He was met with immediate backlash, and not just for the way he announced the policy shift. By overturning Obama’s 2016 policy, Trump sent a powerful signal to the LGBT community – he was not with them like he said he would be. Just in case there was any confusion on the tweets, a presidential memorandum was released in August requiring the discharge of all transgenders member in the military be discharged by March of 2018.

Since the policy announcement, the president has suffered defeat after defeat concerning the ban. In November, federal Judge Kollar-Kotelly blocked the White House policy stating, “There is absolutely no support for the claim that the ongoing service of transgender people would have a negative effect on the military at all.” She noted that the ban was likely unconstitutional, violating the Constitution’s equal protection clause.

If one judge wasn’t clear enough, a second federal judge, Marvin J. Garbis, issued another ruling to stop the Trump policy and specifically banning the military from not funding gender-reassignment surgery for service members. Judge Garbis, appointed to the bench by George W. Bush, said the troops were, “already suffering harmful consequences such as the cancellation and postponements of surgeries, the stigma of being set apart as inherently unfit, facing the prospect of discharge and inability to commission as an officer, the inability to move forward with long-term medical plans, and the threat to their prospects of obtaining long-term assignments.”

On December 11, Judge Kollar-Kotelly denied the administration’s request to delay an order that required the military to start accepting transgender recruits beginning January 1. The Department of Defense issued a statement the same day announcing that transgender people would be allowed to enlist at the start of 2018.

Effectively, Trump’s ban is over before it began.

Donald Trump rode a nationalist wave to the White House and immediately began his 2020 campaign. Knowing that he had to keep the support of his base, he started making policy moves to appease them and the transgender military ban was one of those policies. Unfortunately for him, his main argument for the ban, the cost of the transition surgeries and treatment, was not solid.

Nobody knows exactly how many transgender military service members are currently serving. Estimates run from 2,000 to 8,000. Many estimates put the number higher than that. The RAND Corporation conducted a study at the behest of the Pentagon and found that health care for transgender military service members would cost between $2.4 million to $8.4 million, an increase of approximately 0.1 percent. The Pentagon’s annual budget is $700 billion. RAND also said the there would be “little or no impact on unit cohesion, operational effectiveness or readiness.”

Keep in mind that the Pentagon ultimately works for Donald Trump, meaning studies from within his own administration repudiated his arguments.

What’s more is that the public in general seems to have moved beyond this issue. Once “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was lifted and after Obama allowed transgender members to serve, the public seemed to accept the new norm and move on. In August, right after the ban was announced, a Quinnipiac University nation poll found that 68% of American voters thought that transgender people should be allowed to serve in the military. 55% of voters in military households also felt the same. Only 27% of voters said they did not think transgender people should be allowed to serve.

The issue was really lost before President Trump sent those tweets in July. The only thing he gained was the ability to tell his base, when he runs for reelection, is that he tried.


Allen Watson is a writer from the Carolina coast. He has a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in teaching. He loves Star Wars and Star Trek equally, which is rare in an individual. Find him on his blog or Twitter @allenwatson23.

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