Defense Secretary Jim Mattis spoke to reporters yesterday at the Pentagon about transgender service.
Mattis said that he and his staff are still studying the issue, including how having transgender service members affects other members of their units.
Asked whether transgender people now in the military will be forced out of their service, he pointed to a statement that Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, issued a day after Trump’s announcement last month. Dunford said that openly transgender people will be allowed to continue to serve until there is guidance from the president on how to proceed.
The chairman immediately went out and said immediately, 'Everyone stand fast until we get the direction.' I understand that this is probably more about your suspicion about what could be coming, but the fact is, we have received no direction that would indicate any harm to anybody right now.
Mattis declined to say whether transgender service members who have outed themselves will be allowed to, at minimum, complete their military contracts. He also questioned the numbers of a study by the Rand Corp. that was commissioned by the Pentagon and cited by the Obama administration as it lifted a ban on transgender service in July 2016. The study found that there was little impact to military operations on allowing transgender troops and that there were already between 2,500 and 7,000 transgender people among the 1.3 million on active duty.
I’m going to wait, again, until I get the direction from the White House, and then we will study it and come up with what the policy should be.. But I’m not willing to sign up for the [Rand Corp.] numbers you just used, and I’m not willing to sign up for the concern any of [the transgender service members] have, considering what the chairman said. And I’m not willing to prejudge what the study will now bring out.
Aaron Belkin, a sociologist who assisted the Pentagon with transgender research, said that the Rand study reached the same conclusion “as all of the rest of the research” about military service by people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The study also confirmed lessons by 18 other foreign militaries that allow transgender people to serve, and those of who had served openly and honorably in the U.S. military for the last year, he added.
Secretary Mattis should explain to the president and the public that he understands this lesson, and that forcing the military to adopt ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ for transgender troops would waste money, disrupt the forces, and lead to years of litigation, the very same consequences as the first ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.'
But Elaine Donnelly, the president of the Center for Military Readiness, said that government policies and statutes change all the time, and “it simply can’t be true that once a benefit is established, a qualification imposed, or a disqualification removed it can never be re-imposed or otherwise altered.”
Donnelly, who also opposed integrating women in combat units and allowing gay people to serve openly in the military, said all of the transgender policy changes that the Obama administration made will be in effect unless Trump and Mattis issue new orders by Jan. 1.
I believe they will, but orders will have to be principled, consistent, and defendable in court. Any exceptions would be narrow, few, and temporary as new policies putting military readiness take effect.
In Grown-Up Land, officials tend to examine an idea before a president starts banning Americans in uniform from military service, but in the Trump administration, the order of events is apparently reversed.
--Steve Benen, MSNBC