Transgender Americans serving in the U.S. military or hoping to join can finally breathe a little easier. On Monday, a federal judge blocked key components of President Donald Trump’s memo seeking to ban transgender people from the military.
Trump’s ban on trans Americans serving “in any capacity” in the military was first articulated via a three-part tweet on July 26, apparently catching the Pentagon off-guard and throwing the futures of an estimated thousands of transgender service members into uncertainty. One month after the tweetstorm, the White House rolled out new guidelines, granting the Pentagon the authority to “reassess” the deployability of trans troops, and discharge anyone deemed non-deployable under the new guidance.
The effect of the order, handed down in the U.S. District Court of D.C., is to “revert to the status quo” with regards to trans troops being allowed to join or serve openly in the military, a policy enacted by the Obama administration in 2016.
In August, while the White House scrambled to put the president’s tweeted policy change into an actual directive, five active-duty transgender service members, backed by GLAD and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, preemptively sued their commander in chief and top Pentagon officials.
Because of the court order, trans troops can continue to serve openly, but they can no longer rely on the military to cover all their medical costs. Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly upheld the part of the White House memo that ended federal funding for trans troops’ sex reassignment surgeries.
An oft-cited June 2016 study by the RAND Corporation estimated that there were anywhere between 1,320 and 6,630 transgender active-duty service members, a tiny fraction of the 1.3 million total service members.
Not all transgender troops necessarily undergo sex-reassignment surgery — only if they are recommended to do so by a doctor. RAND found that transgender-specific medical care (which includes sex reassignment surgery, hormone replacement therapy, and psychiatric treatment) would cost the military between $2.4 million and $8.4 million each year, a small fraction. The study’s author called this a “little more than a rounding error in the military’s $47.8 billion annual healthcare budget.”
Monday’s ruling is yet another blow to the Trump administration’s agenda by the judicial system. The president has repeatedly railed against judges who ruled against his travel ban. “The legal system is broken!” Trump tweeted in February.