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Trump’s trans military ban has harmed the US armed forces, report finds

Trump’s trans military ban has harmed the US armed forces, report finds

  • Three former military Surgeons General and academics release first independent assessment of the US president’s policy.
US Army in a firefight in Afghanistan.

President Donald Trump’s ban on trans people serving in the US military has damaged the armed forces’ reputation and effectiveness.

That’s the clear conclusion of the first independent report to assess the impact of the ban.

Three senior academics at the Palm Center worked with three retired military Surgeons General to compile the report.

They found the ban is ‘compromising recruitment, reputation, retention, unit cohesion, morale, medical care, and good order and discipline’ in the military.

The US military started allowing trans people to serve openly in uniform in June 2016. But Trump first proposed the ban in a tweet in July 2017, just a few months after the start of his presidency.

Legal action stopped the ban coming in straight away. But eventually it came into force, covering about 90% of trans people in the military, in April 2019.

The Trump administration had argued the ban was necessary because trans people in the forces ‘could undermine readiness, disrupt unit cohesion, and impose an unreasonable burden on the military that is not conducive to military effectiveness and lethality’.

Despite that, in 2018 the then Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley told the US Senate Armed Services Committee that the first two years of having trans people serve had not created problems.

He said: ‘I have received precisely zero reports of issues of cohesion, discipline, morale and all those sorts of things.’

‘Unwelcoming and intolerant’

Now the report confirms this conclusion.

The authors include retired Vice Admiral Donald Arthur, former Surgeon General of the US Navy; Major General Gale Pollock, former Acting Surgeon General of the US Army; and Rear Admiral Alan Steinman, former Director of Health and Safety – equivalent of a surgeon general – in the US Coast Guard.

They and the academics found the ban harms recruitment by removing a possible 206,000 trans Americans of recruiting age from the pool available to the armed forces. Likewise, it discourages other young Americans from serving.

The report also said the ban harms military’s reputation casts the armed forces ‘as unwelcoming and intolerant’.

When it comes to retention the harm even goes beyond information captured in discharge figures, the report says. It makes trans people ‘less likely to continue or extend their service’.

Moreover the report says the ban harms unit cohesion because it encourages anti-transgender harassment. And it ‘undermines trust when troops conceal their identities’.

Likewise it ‘hurts the morale of transgender service members’ and distracts them from their focus.

Meanwhile, the ban also ‘thwarts access to medical care’ for trans people and makes them less open to medical personel.

Finally, the report concludes the ban harms ‘good order and discipline’. It says the ‘ban creates confusion and uncertainty among commanders and subordinates, undermining leadership and commitment to clear rules and expectations’.

‘Serving in the military was my calling’

President-Elect Joe Biden has vowed to remove the ban when he takes office. And despite the way the last administration has treated them, some former trans service people will still return.

The report quotes ‘Alex’, a former Navy hospital corpsman.

He said: ‘I feel that if I could physically and mentally qualify then that one word “transgender” should not have been an issue.

‘Serving in the military was my calling. It was my duty; it wasn’t just some job to me. I still have that pride, purpose, and honor feeling but I also would love to re-enlist to give others who are transgender hope and inspiration to not give up on your calling.’

Likewise Max, who joined the Army before transitioning and served in Afghanistan, also testified.

He said: ‘The Army was the first job I ever wanted. Serving and leading soldiers is my calling, and was the privilege of my life.

‘I love the lifestyle, the camaraderie, the missions, the emphasis on taking care of your people. It’s a great life, and I want to be allowed to continue it to my highest potential.’

‘My superiors know I can handle the tough assignments’

Likewise, Nicolas Talbott, an aspiring service member and transgender plaintiff challenging the ban in federal court, welcomed the report.

Talbott said: ‘When I look at this data, I am more confident than ever that the ban will soon be overturned and I will finally be able to pursue my dream career in the military.

‘The report matches what I’ve already heard from my friends serving in the military, who tell me that they don’t understand why I’m not allowed to enlist and that they would be glad to have a qualified transgender recruit like myself serving alongside them.’

Blaire McIntyre, a Michigan Army National Guard specialist, is also challenging the ban.

McIntyre said: ‘This new report proves that discharging qualified, capable and battle-tested transgender service members like me is a detriment to our military’s strength and unity.

‘My superiors expect the same of me as any other service member, and they give me the tough assignments because they know I can handle them. All I want is the opportunity to continue doing my job – a job that I do well and that helps me provide for my family.’

‘Political’ ban deprives military of ‘talented’ recruits

Meanwhile LGBT+ campaign organizations have also welcomed the report.

Jennifer Levi, GLAAD transgender rights project director, said: 

‘Military leaders agree that the ban harms our military by depriving it of qualified, talented transgender recruits.

‘This recent report highlights the thousands of transgender Americans being turned away from military service. There is no reason to bar any transgender American who is qualified and willing to serve from contributing to our country’s military.’

Moreover,  Shannon Minter, legal director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said: 

‘This new report confirms that Trump’s transgender military ban was adopted for political reasons and that its only impact has been to undermine military readiness and morale.’