Without warning or explanation, President Trump announced on Twitter Wednesday morning that he is unilaterally reversing the military’s plan to allow transgender service:
While the tweets are lacking for details, they suggest that thousands of transgender people already serving in the military will lose their jobs. Last June, the Pentagon announced that they no longer had to hide in the shadows — that their positions were safe if they were public about their identities. That plan was to allow openly trans people to enroll starting July 1 of this year, but Defense Secretary James Mattis agreed to delay that implementation six months to allow for further review.
Meanwhile, conservative House Republicans have been attempting to find various ways to curtail this policy through amendments to the defense spending bill. Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) originally floated an outright ban to transgender service, then ultimately advanced an amendment banning military funds from being spent on transition-related health care. That amendment was surprisingly defeated earlier this month by the Republican-controlled House in a close 209–214 vote. Nevertheless, Hartzler and others were continuing to explore additional options as of this week, apparently encouraged by Vice President Mike Pence.
In proposing her amendments, Hartzler repeatedly claimed that the medical costs to the military would be $1.35 billion over ten years. On multiple occasions, her office refused to respond to ThinkProgress inquiries to identify the source of that number, which is 16 times higher than the highest estimates provided by the RAND corporation in its report released along with the Pentagon’s policy change last year. RAND found that the military’s health costs would increase at most around $8.4 million per year, an increase of only 0.13 percent.
Since Hartzler started floating her bogus number, the Family Research Council, an anti-LGBTQ hate group, has estimated even higher numbers. This numbers game appears to have persuaded Trump to ignore the review and unilaterally decide to kick all transgender people out of the armed services. 19 other countries allow transgender military service — and have for some time.
On Tuesday, the Log Cabin Republicans highlighted an interview with new White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci proclaiming how “pro-gay” (albeit not pro-trans) the Trump administration is. Indeed, that has been the argument made by conservatives who claim to be LGBTQ-friendly throughout the campaign and well into this year. While it’s true Trump did mention LGBTQ people in his convention speech and once held up a rainbow flag, he only ever made these references while fanning Islamophobia.
Though Trump appeared to be trans-friendly the first time he was presented with a question about North Carolina’s transphobic bathroom law HB2 during the campaign, his position quickly shifted and he began to claim that transgender inclusion is a “state’s rights” issue. As has been the case in just about every civil rights fight, “state’s rights” is code for “if a state wants to discriminate, let them.”
The administration’s other actions, such as rescinding the Obama administration’s guidance protecting transgender students in schools and working to reverse Obamacare’s guidance protecting transgender patients in health care, further demonstrate that Trump seems to have little concern for transgender people whatsoever.
The Pentagon’s statement suggests that it had little (if any) input in the president’s decision to interrupt the policy change already underway:
Secretary Mattis is notably out of the office on “personal travel” this week.
The White House dubbed this week “American Heroes Week.”
Editorial note: This post has been updated with additional context since it was first published.