Military's De Facto Transgender Ban Is Hurting Readiness, Advocacy Group Report Finds

A new report finds that a de facto ban on transgender troops is hurting military readiness.
In this March 27, 2018, file photo, plaintiffs Cathrine Schmid, second left, and Conner Callahan, second right, listen with supporters during a news conference in front of a federal courthouse following a hearing in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

A new advocacy group report backed by the former surgeons general of the Army and Navy, asserts that the military's effective ban on transgender service is eroding readiness, lending support to President-elect Joe Biden's campaign pledge to end the restriction.

"The ban undermines recruitment by artificially shrinking a recruiting pool comprising an estimated 205,850 transgender Americans of recruiting age [and] by discouraging transgender and gender-non-conforming individuals from considering service," according to the 36-page study by the Palm Center, which does research on gender, sexuality and the military. The report was released Nov. 22.

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The ban also has an impact on retention "by stigmatizing and uniquely burdening transgender personnel, making them less likely to continue or extend their service," the report states. "The ban's overall impact has been to undermine readiness by blocking or discouraging many transgender individuals from serving or deploying, uniquely burdening transgender service, and stigmatizing transgender individuals as a threat to the military mission."

The report's six authors include retired Vice Adm. Donald C. Arthur, former surgeon general of the Navy, and retired Maj. Gen. Gale Pollock, former acting surgeon general of the Army.

Once he is inaugurated on Jan. 20, Biden will have authority to reverse President Donald Trump's executive order imposing the ban; he pledged to do so in a campaign position paper.

On the Transgender Day of Remembrance last Friday, Biden also pledged to eliminate discrimination against transgender Americans.

"To transgender and gender-nonconforming people across America and around the world -- from the moment I am sworn in as president of the United States, know that my administration will see you, listen to you, and fight for not only your safety but also the dignity and justice you have been denied," Biden said in a statement.

The Obama administration took action in June 2016 to allow transgender Americans to serve openly in the military.

But in a July 2017 series of tweets, Trump put the ban in place, saying, "After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military."

Although Trump said he had consulted with the military, the Pentagon at the time appeared to have been blindsided by the announcement. Pentagon officials could not respond to questions on how the ban would affect transgender individuals already serving.

Trump directed then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to plan for implementation. In April 2019, the Defense Department issued regulations "prohibiting transgender individuals, with some exceptions, from serving in the military, citing the financial costs of inclusive service, as well as a threat to readiness, cohesion, and lethality," the Palm Center said in the report.

The report estimates that there are currently about 15,000 transgender U.S. service members. Under the Trump administration's policy, they can continue serving if they do so in the gender they were assigned at birth, unless they are granted a waiver.

The Palm Center report was based on public statements made by senior officials, in-depth interviews with transgender service members, survey data and interviews with faculty at the service academies.

A former Navy aviation electronics technician cited anonymously in the report said the effective ban made him leave the service when his obligation ended.

"I separated in large part due to the treatment of myself and other trans troops,"he said. "I could not justify putting my life on hold to [support] an organization that in an official capacity says that people like me are a burden to the service and that continually mistreated me on the basis of being trans."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at

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