No, Mattis did not ‘freeze’ the transgender military ban

He's just following Trump's order.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky
CREDIT: AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky

Responding to a new statement from Defense Secretary James Mattis on Tuesday night, multiple outlets, including USA Today, the Washington Post, and Fox News, reported that he had somehow frozen, paused, or stalled President Trump’s ban on transgender military service. There is no justification for this framing; Mattis’ statement says that the military will implement the order exactly as directed.

“The department will carry out the president’s policy direction, in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security,” the statement said bluntly. It goes on to explain that, “as directed,” the Department of Defense will develop “a study and implementation plan,” following which Mattis will advise Trump “concerning implementation of his policy direction.” All of that matches what was in Trump’s order.

What seems to have confused the outlets was Mattis’ claim that “[i]n the interim, current policy with respect to currently serving members will remain in place.” But this is not a change; it is also consistent with Trump’s order.

The memo Trump issued Friday night stated three clear expectations:

  • The military’s ban on accepting new trans servicemembers will extend indefinitely beyond January 1, 2018, which is when it was set to end before this new policy.
  • As of March 23, 2018, the military will “return to the longstanding policy and practice” that preceded last year’s decision to allow transgender servicemembers to serve openly, which means the removal of all known trans servicemembers from the military’s ranks.
  • As of March 23, 2018, the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security will cease all funding for transition-related surgical procedures.

So as Shannon Minter of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) explained in response to stories suggesting a freeze, “The new ban does not go into effect until March 23, 2018 and expressly states that no one can be discharged for being transgender in the meantime. There is nothing new at all here, and suggesting otherwise is terribly misleading.”


Moreover, the statement does not explain why several trans servicemembers, including some who are suing to challenge the ban, have had their surgeries put on hold. It remains unclear whether they will actually be able to proceed with scheduled surgeries in the interim before the ban takes effect next March.

Minter went on to explain that any notion of a study is “patently bogus” and instead only seeks to provide “a retroactive fig leaf for the President’s bigotry.” Indeed, the decision to lift the ban on transgender service was made last year specifically because the issue had already been studied and an implementation plan laid out. “We need reporters to fact check these stories,” Minter said, “and not simply repeat false information that is being used to set up an attempted cover for one of the most shocking acts of official discrimination the transgender community has ever experienced.”

There is no freeze, and any study — particularly one that somehow claims to justify reimplementing the ban on trans service — should be highly scrutinized.