Army chief of staff pulls rug out from under transgender military ban

There are no concerns with unit cohesion.

CREDIT: Drew Angerer/Getty Images
CREDIT: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

During congressional testimony Thursday, the Army’s top officials explained that they have no knowledge of the unit cohesion concerns expressed in a report justifying President Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the military.

Army Secretary Mark Esper and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley both said as much under questioning from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). Esper, who said back in February that soldiers aren’t concerned about transgender service, reiterated, “Nothing has percolated up to my level.” When Gillibrand asked Milley if transgender troops have caused any issues with unit cohesion, he confirmed, “No. Not at all.”

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“We have a finite number,” Milley said of the currently serving trans soldiers. “We know who they are, and it is monitored very closely because we’re concerned about that and want to make sure that they are in fact treated with dignity and respect and have precisely zero reports of issues of cohesion, discipline, moral and all sorts of things.”

As the Washington Blade notes, this directly contradicts concerns raised in a recently released Defense Department report justifying a ban on accepting transgender service members. Allowing transgender people who have ever been diagnosed with 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 report stated.

Concerns about unit cohesion were also used to defend “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the ban on lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members serving openly. Those concerns were found to be hollow after the law was repealed.

Furthermore, gender dysphoria is not a mental health disorder, and the diagnosis simply refers to the distress trans people experience from discordance between their body and their gender identity. It also provides a mechanism for insurance companies to cover the procedures related to transition. As a new review of the academic literature overwhelming shows, trans people benefit overwhelmingly from taking steps to transition, and as the country’s major medical organizations have pointed out, there’s nothing to substantiate the claim that they couldn’t meet the same health standards expected of service members.

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But Defense Secretary James Mattis was nevertheless defending the report’s rationale during his own congressional testimony on Thursday. Under questioning from Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), Mattis explained, “As we look at the enlistment standards, I gave a recommendation that troops — patriotic Americans — who do not have gender dysphoria should be allowed to serve. I did not recommend that we change the clear standards that apply to all in that regard or make a special group.”

Both Mattis and Milley were questioned about who was part of the panel that recommended the ban, and both spoke vaguely about representatives from across the armed services. Milley promised he would produce a report with the names of the experts who were consulted. Neither referenced a working group Vice President Pence separately impaneled, including members of anti-LGBTQ hate groups, whose recommendations seemingly overruled what the military panel originally proposed.

Milley did defend the military’s right to set standards for enlistment, such as medical, physical, psychological, and conduct standards. “If you meet those standards, then you’re on the team. If you don’t meet the standards for whatever reason, then you’re not on the team. It’s that simple,” he said. But he didn’t necessarily defend the recommendation that gender dysphoria be a disqualifying standard.