President Trump has announced that transgender Americans will not be allowed to serve “in any capacity” in the U.S. military. He tweeted that the U.S. 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.” Former Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter had announced last June that transgender individuals would be able to serve openly in the military. He issued guidance for medical care for these soldiers—including those who transitioned during their service—as well as training military leaders. Since then, it has been the military’s policy not to discharge or deny reenlistment to service members based solely on their gender identity. The full policy was set to be implemented by July 1, 2017. But at the end of June, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis announced a six-month delay to review the plan, assessing whether it would hurt the “readiness or lethality” of American troops. Trump’s announcement is the latest in a set of steps his administration has taken to walk back Obama-era policies on transgender Americans. The biggest shift is the reasoning: Rather than framing his decision in the language of rights or morality, as Obama-era officials did, Trump spoke about the new transgender policy in terms of military efficiency. The decision is likely to trigger major pushback from Democratic legislators and LGBT activists who long pushed for full acceptance of transgender service members. It will also bring gender identity back into the spotlight, reigniting a culture-war debate surrounding a president who has tried to sell himself as a friend of LGBT rights. Rand, a research think tank, estimated that there are between 1,320 and 6,630 transgender Americans currently serving in the military out of 1.3 million active-service members. While it’s impossible to know how many members would need gender-transition-related services, it’s likely that only a fraction would want to transition while in service—Rand suggested that somewhere between 29 and 129 people per year would make those requests. The “upper bound” of estimated requests was “0.1 percent of the total force,” Rand wrote. The expected costs related to these services were between $2.4 million and $8.4 million each year. When Mattis announced the delay in implementing the Obama-era guidelines, he cited questions about the policy’s effect on service members’ ability to perform their duties. While there has not been much research done on this question, according to Rand, policies welcoming lesbian, gay, and bisexual Americans to serve openly in the military did not have an effect. The researchers expected “little or no impact on unit cohesion, operational effectiveness, or readiness” resulting from Obama’s policy. I encourage everyone to voice their opinion to their representatives. For more information, contact Sandra at the Veterans Service Office at 602 Strong Ave on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10am to 3pm, or call 365-3612.

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