WASHINGTON – Nearly a week after the Pentagon publicly posted its new recommended policy on transgender troops, the department’s chief spokeswoman refused to clarify portions of the memo or settle confusion about whether service members who have already transitioned from one gender to another would be discharged under the proposed plan.
Dana White said Thursday that pending litigation challenging President Donald Trump’s order to ban transgender forces prevents her from answering even the most basic questions, including who was on the panel that drafted the recommendations.
The report, approved and signed by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and endorsed by the White House last Friday, provides unprecedented details on the number of transgender forces currently serving in the military and how many of them have sought mental health help or are planning to seek surgery. For the past two years, Pentagon officials have insisted they don’t collect data on transgender troops.
White said that the department is complying with four court orders and is currently allowing transgender individuals to enlist and continue to serve openly. She added, “to safeguard the integrity of the court process, I am unable to provide any further details at this time.”
According to the report, which was initially released in court filings last Friday, transgender individuals who have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria or have a history of the condition are banned from serving in the military except under “limited circumstances.”
The exceptions include those who can show they have been stable for 36 months, have not undergone gender transition and can adhere to the standards for their “biological sex” — which would appear to mean their birth gender. Another exception would be made for currently serving transgender troops who also can adhere to the standards for their biological sex and are otherwise able to deploy if needed.
The policy states that anyone who has “undergone gender transition” is disqualified from service, but it’s not clear if that means a complete surgical transition or also refers to ongoing hormone treatment.
In 2016, the Pentagon under then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter lifted the ban on transgender service. Trump, however, took defense leaders by surprise last July, tweeting that the U.S. government would not allow transgender members to serve. The tweet triggered a number of lawsuits, and Trump asked Mattis to develop recommendations.
Because of the lawsuits, the Pentagon has continued to allow transgender troops to serve and on Jan. 1, went ahead with plans to allow them to begin enlisting. Several have done so, but it’s not clear exactly how many.
Other statistics, however, were detailed for the first time in the report.
It said there are 8,980 service members who identify themselves as transgender, and 937 of them have been diagnosed with “gender dysphoria” — those with discomfort with their birth gender. The report adds that data collected by the Military Health System reveal that 424 of those service members diagnosed have had treatment plans approved, and “at least 36” of those plans don’t include “cross sex hormone therapy or sex reassignment surgery.”
The report adds that while it’s unclear how many will want the reassignment surgery, 22 have requested a waiver for it and 35 surgeries have been completed so far. And it also notes that the fewer than 1,000 troops diagnosed with gender dysphoria since October 2015 account for 30,000 mental health visits. The current policy, however, requires various medical and mental health checks in order to go through the military’s process for acceptance as a transgender service member, and it’s not clear how many of those visits are to comply with requirements.
The report also says that service members with dysphoria are eight times more likely to attempt suicide that other troops — 12 percent versus 1.5 percent respectively.
The Pentagon’s new recommendations align more with Trump’s tweet than with the previous Carter initiative. But they also mirror the Clinton-era “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on gays in the military. That directive, which essentially allowed gays to serve as long as they didn’t tell anyone, was repealed by Congress in late 2010, and gay service members were able to serve openly beginning in Sept. 2011.
The policy says that transgender individuals without a history or diagnosis of dysphoria can serve as long as they adhere to the standards of their birth gender.
It defends the decision saying that allowing transgender individuals to serve would be “accommodating gender transition” and “could impair unit readiness; undermine unit cohesion, as well as good order and discipline, by blurring the clear lines that demarcate male and female standards and policies where they exist; and lead to disproportionate costs.”
Pressed repeatedly for clarification, White said that while the document was written by a Pentagon review panel, the Justice Department will be responsible for explaining it. Asked who was on the panel, White said she didn’t have that information and she deferred to the Justice Department before saying more.
Other U.S. officials have said that the senior enlisted advisers for the military services as well as the undersecretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force were members. It’s not clear who else may have been on the panel, including possible legal or military experts. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t allowed to provide the information publicly.
Asked why the Pentagon put out a nearly 50-page memo before the court cases were settled, White said Trump asked for it.
“We are in this process, and we’re going to see it through,” said White.