Defense Secretary Jim Mattis announced on Tuesday that transgender troops will be allowed to continue serving in the military pending the results of a study by experts.
The announcement follows an order from President Trump on Friday, directing the Pentagon to indefinitely extend a ban on transgender individuals serving in the military, which was lifted under Barack Obama. The order also affects the Department of Homeland Security, which houses the Coast Guard.
The order would also stop the use of government funds for sex-reassignment surgery for active personnel.
President Trump gave Defense Secretary Jim Mattis the authority to decide the matter of openly transgender individuals already serving and said until the Pentagon chief makes that decision, “no action may be taken against” them.
The Obama administration in June 2016 had changed longstanding policy, declaring that troops could serve openly as transgender individuals. A July 2017 deadline was set for determining whether transgender people could be allowed to enter the military, but Mattis delayed that to Jan. 1, 2018, and Trump has now instructed Mattis to extend it indefinitely.
“Once the panel reports its recommendations and following my consultation with the secretary of Homeland Security, I will provide my advice to the president concerning implementation of his policy direction,” Mattis said in the statement. “In the interim, current policy with respect to currently serving members will remain in place.”
The Pentagon will now have the time it needs to determine how and if it will allow thousands of transgender troops to continue to serve, whether they will receive medical treatment, or how they will be discharged.
As defense secretary, Mattis has demonstrated that he has little tolerance for policies that detract from military readiness or the Pentagon’s effectiveness on the battlefield. Back in June, he delayed the Pentagon’s plan to accept new transgender troops because he wanted more time to study the effects of recruiting them on the Pentagon’s ability to fight and win wars.
Under the Obama administration, the Pentagon rescinded a longstanding ban on transgender troops serving. It also outlined how those troops could receive medical treatment, including gender reassignment surgery, if it was deemed medically necessary.
Trump’s order by tweet on July 26 caught the Pentagon by surprise. The tweets said there was no room in the ranks for transgender troops and that the government would no longer pay for their medical treatment.
Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated that the Pentagon would not change its policy until it was notified officially by the White House. That notification came on Friday night when the president directed Mattis to study the issue and determine how to implement Trump’s direction. Critics call the directive discriminatory, and the American Civil Liberties Union has filed suit against it.
The Pentagon commissioned a study last year by the non-partisan RAND Corp. to look at how military readiness might be affected by allowing transgender troops to serve openly, as well as the cost of providing them medical treatment. The study estimated that a few to several thousand transgender troops are in the active duty force of 1.3 million. Researchers found that paying for their health care needs would amount to about $8 million per year and that their effect on readiness would be negligible.
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