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Trans Military Ban Watch: sudden media kerfuffle erupts, policy adoption carries on as before

The cause of the controversy? A seemingly routine statement from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

Marilyn Drew Necci | August 30, 2017

If your facebook timeline is anything like mine, it spent the morning erupting with contradictory reports about the current status of Donald Trump’s already-infamous ban on transgender troops serving openly in the military. The USA Today told us “Mattis freezes transgender policy;” Slate’s LGBTQ legal correspondent, Mark Joseph Stern, followed up a few hours later by telling us that “No, Mattis did not freeze Trump’s transgender troops ban.” A statement from National Center for Lesbian Rights lawyer Shannon Minter circulated, which began with the line, “The USA Today story is grossly misleading.” So what’s the truth? What is actually going on with the transgender military ban?

Honestly, nothing new has happened. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis did release a statement yesterday in response to the guidance policy memo delivered to the Department Of Defense last Friday. However, the second sentence of that statement read, “The department will carry out the president’s policy direction, in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security.”

As we’ve reported in the past, Mattis has expressed serious reservations about the policy, from his initial “appalled” reaction to Trump’s fateful tweets that launched this entire thing to his statements in an August 14 press conference in which he proclaimed diversity to be the strength of the US Military. However, at that same press conference, he had also expressed his unwillingness to countermand an order given by the President, who is, after all, Commander-in-Chief of the US Armed Forces. “The American people elected the commander in chief. They didn’t elect me,” Mattis said.

So what caused all of today’s media furor? The issue appears to be a misinterpretation by USA Today’s Tom Vanden Brook of a particular line within yesterday’s Defense Department statement. “Our focus must always be on what is best for the military’s combat effectiveness leading to victory on the battlefield,” it reads. “To that end, I will establish a panel of experts serving within the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security to provide advice and recommendations on the implementation of the president’s direction.”

Pretty straightforward, right? What makes it confusing is the interpretation of this section of the statement as new information. On Monday, we reported on the final form of the Trump administration’s Guidance Policy For Open Transgender Service Phase Out–a memo delivered to the Defense Department late Friday afternoon. As we said at the time, “it appears Mattis will have the final word on the policy’s enactment.” We also reported last Thursday, at the time the existence of the memo was confirmed, that “the military will then have six months in which to prepare for full enforcement of the ban.”

Mattis’s decision to prepare for the ban’s enforcement by convening a panel providing “advice and recommendations on the implementation of the president’s direction” fits right in with Mattis’s August 14 statement that, upon receipt of the memo, he and his department would “study it and come up with what the policy should be.” At no point did he ever make any indication that the end result of the panel would be any other result than what the President ordered–the phase out of openly serving transgender troops in the US military.

The statement ends with these sentences: “In the interim, current policy with respect to currently serving members will remain in place.   I expect to issue interim guidance to the force concerning the president’s direction, including any necessary interim adjustments to procedures, to ensure the continued combat readiness of the force until our final policy on this subject is issued.” Again, this fits directly with what has previously been known–that the policy, regardless of the way the Defense Department chooses to implement it, will not take effect for another six months.

At that point, something will surely be done regarding currently-serving transgender troops. However, just what will be done remains as up in the air as it was on August 7, when we reported, “As for the 15,000 transgender service members currently on active duty, what will happen to them is not completely known, as Trump’s guidance policy has not as yet been made public. However, a source told the Washington Blade that ‘the administration wants to get rid of transgender service members as fast as they can.’”

In addition to the policies (already confirmed in our reporting Monday) of discharging trans troops up for promotions and ceasing to pay for transgender-related medical care, something is sure to be done about the trans troops still on the payroll. What exactly will that be? Regardless of this morning’s media controversy, it seems that as of now, we still know very little. Rest assured GayRVA will continue to keep you updated on the developments in this story, as we have endeavored to do since it initially broke.