Conservatives celebrate delay of transgender military enlistment

Defense Secretary James Mattis says it will still happen.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. CREDIT: AP Photo/Virginia Mayo
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. CREDIT: AP Photo/Virginia Mayo

As of July 1, transgender people were supposed to be allowed to enlist in the military, but Defense Secretary James Mattis has agreed to a six-month delay on implementing that policy at the last minute. Conservatives seem to think they’ve won a big victory, even though Mattis made clear the delay wouldn’t change the outcome — nor change the existing policy allowing current trans servicemembers to serve openly.

The Family Research Council (FRC), an anti-LGBTQ hate group, applauded the delay as “a good first step” and called for Mattis and Congress to abandon “the last administration’s social engineering projects that ignore military readiness.” The Heritage Foundation’s Ryan T. Anderson claimed it was “correct” to pause a “politically driven agenda” that was “rushed,” even though it was studied for some time and then announced a full year before implementation. Elaine Donnelly of the surprisingly-not-defunct Center for Military Readiness even produced a “special report” to urge Mattis and President Trump to dump the policy entirely. “Time to start the engines,” she told Heritage’s The Daily Signal.

Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO), who introduced (and withdrew) an amendment to the defense spending bill last week banning all transgender service, said in a statement that she was “pleased” by Mattis’ delay. “It is my hope that he will move forward with full repeal in the coming months,” Hartzler added. She has warned that if the policy is not fully rescinded, she will call on her fellow lawmakers to ban transgender service through legislation. She also called trans military service a threat to national security comparable to North Korea, ISIS, and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The renewed push by conservatives to resist the trans military policy has resulted in a rush of new “studies” claiming the policy will have a bigger impact than anything found in the actual studies that preceded its announcement a year ago. Hartzler, for example, has repeatedly claimed that transgender-related surgeries would cost the military $1.35 billion over the next ten years, though her office has still not responded to a ThinkProgress inquiry as to the origins of that figure. FRC has now estimated that the cost will actually be $1.88 billion over ten years, if not $3.7 billion when accounting for “lost time” when allowing trans servicemembers to take leaves of absence prior to surgeries.

The RAND Corporation’s study found that the increased costs would be around $8.4 million per year at most, an increase in military health expenditures of 0.13 percent. Hartzler’s figure is 16 times higher and FRC’s is 44 times higher, by comparison. RAND also concluded that even by its most cautious estimates, less than 0.1 percent of the total force would seek transition-related care that could disrupt their ability to deploy.

Conservatives are also using the delay to object to how the policy would be implemented. Transgender military service means that some soldiers may have to share facilities with people who have different body parts than they do. This, detractors claim, will utterly disrupt military readiness. “In short, the rest of the unit must adjust, not the individual transgender soldier,” whined James Hasson at The Federalist.

Even though 18 other countries welcome (or require) transgender people to serve in their militaries — and some have for years — some believe the U.S. Military is apparently so fragile that sharing showers and bunks with transgender people will incapacitate it. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), who served two tours in Iraq, explained last week that he supported Hartzler’s ban because he simply can’t imagine having to share facilities with “somebody who was a girl and didn’t have the surgery to become a man but kept the girl stuff.”

The delay is creating real consequences for transgender people who are graduating from the military academies but cannot then be commissioned into the services. They will have to find work in the civil service or alternative employment until the policy is implemented allowing them to enlist.

In the meantime, the 10,000 transgender people who were already serving in silence can continue to be open about their identities. A year of their open service has had not had any discernible consequences.