House surprisingly rejects ban on military funding for transgender health needs

Despite a Republican majority, an anti-transgender amendment did not survive.

Jenn Brewer is a transgender teenager already benefiting from the military’s coverage of trans health needs. CREDIT: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
Jenn Brewer is a transgender teenager already benefiting from the military’s coverage of trans health needs. CREDIT: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Rep. Vicky Hartzler’s (R-MO) goal of reversing transgender inclusion in the military suffered a major setback Thursday. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted 209–214 to reject her amendment to the defense spending bill that would have banned the military from funding any medical treatment related to gender transition. This would have impacted active personnel who are transgender, as well as the transgender dependents of servicemembers.

The amendment’s surprise defeat followed a series of events suggesting it might prevail. Republican lawmakers allowed the amendment to proceed out of committee Wednesday while rejecting several pro-LGBTQ amendments that had been proposed. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) also predicted it would pass, suggesting the need to work closely with the Defense Department on its implementation.

Last summer, the Pentagon announced a big change in the military’s ban on transgender servicemembers. Trans people who were already serving in secret were allowed to immediately come out without fear of being discharged. It would take a year, however, to implement a process for allowing transgender people to enlist in the military. That was supposed to begin July 1, 2017 but Defense Secretary James Mattis agreed to a six-month delay of that implementation, which many anti-LGBTQ conservatives saw as a sign that they could still prevent it from happening.

Hartzler has made it a top priority to prevent the new policy from taking effect. During a House Armed Service Committee hearing two weeks ago, she introduced a different amendment that would have banned transgender military service outright. It would have caused the immediate discharge of the estimated 15,000 transgender people currently serving. She voluntarily withdrew the amendment, indicating that it was a warning shot to Mattis that if he didn’t prevent the new policy from taking effect, she would.

To justify that blatantly discriminatory act, Hartzler has seemingly invented the statistic that trans military service will cost the military $1.35 billion over the first ten years. Her office has refused to respond to multiple ThinkProgress requests for the source of that figure, which is 16 times higher than the highest estimates the RAND Corporation calculated. The Family Research Council, an anti-LGBTQ hate group, has since estimated figures even higher.

But Hartzler has expressed concerns that aren’t just budgetary. Because she’s worried cisgender troops won’t be able to handle sharing showering facilities with transgender troops, she believes that transgender service is a threat to national security comparable to that posed by North Korea, Russia, and ISIS.

Before the vote, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) thoroughly condemned the vote in a House floor speech. “Make no mistake, the effect and the intent of this unjust and mean-spirited amendment is to ban patriotic Americans from serving our country,” she said. “It is designed to drum transgender servicemembers out of the military. Instead of protecting the men and women who risk their lives to defend our freedoms, they are fighting to rip away the health care of thousands of brave servicemembers.”

Despite the amendment’s defeat, it isn’t the last opportunity Hartzler will have to try to hold back transgender inclusion, either through floor amendments or separate legislation, prior to the end of the additional six-month review process.