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Trump's Transgender Ban In Military Will Focus On New Enlistments

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, seen here in June, has been relatively quiet about President Trump's call for a ban on transgender service members in the U.S. military. New guidelines would give him leeway to determine who should serve.
Matthias Schrader
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Transgender members of the U.S. military would be subject to removal at Defense Secretary James Mattis' discretion — and the service would bar transgender people from enlisting, under new White House guidelines for the Pentagon. President Trump announced the ban via a tweet last month.

Rough details of the guidelines were confirmed by NPR's Tom Bowman after the White House plan for the Pentagon was reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Gay and lesbian troops have been able to serve openly in the U.S. military since 2011; transgender service members were allowed to do the same in 2016, through an order from then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter. That order deferred setting policy on new enlistments.

The Obama administration had set a deadline of July 1, 2017, for the U.S. military to decide how to handle transgender recruits. But as NPR's Phil Ewing has reported, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis put off that deadline in June.

Mattis hasn't spoken much about the plan, and it's not known how rigorously he would enforce a policy on transgender troops. Tom reports, "The big issue for Mattis is service. If you're in the military, people who know him say, he'll give a lot of leeway for keeping transgender people in — unless there's some huge medical issue that prevents deployability."

On July 26, Trump stated in a series of tweets that the U.S. would not allow transgender people "to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military."

The president added, "Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail."

As for the scope of the issue, Tom says that the question of transgender service members hasn't been a hot topic in America's military. It doesn't approach the scale, for instance, of the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy that once governed how lesbians and gays should be treated in the service, Tom reported on Morning Edition on Thursday.

"One officer I spoke with yesterday estimated 1,000 transgender folks in the military, of more than 2 million," Tom said. "Advocates say the number could be up to 15,000."

An estimate by the Rand Corp. suggested there could be as many as 6,600 transgender troops on active duty and more than 4,100 in the reserves.

When President Trump spoke about the issue two weeks ago during a briefing at his golf club in New Jersey, here's what he said:

"Look, I have great respect for the community. I think I have great support — or I've had great support from that community. I got a lot of votes. But the transgender — the military is working on it now. They're doing the work. It's been a very difficult situation. And I think I'm doing a lot of people a favor by coming out and just saying it. As you know, it's been a very complicated issue for the military. It's been a very confusing issue for the military. And I think I'm doing the military a great favor."

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.