President Donald Trump ordered the U.S. military on Friday to reject openly transgender people as new recruits but authorized Defense Secretary James Mattis to decide how to handle transgender personnel already serving in the armed forces.
Trump also ordered the military to stop paying for gender reassignment surgical procedures by March 23 except to protect the health of someone who has already begun the process of reassigning sex, according to a senior White House official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.
Trump announced July 26 he would ban transgender people from serving “in any capacity” in the U.S. military, reversing President Barack Obama’s policy to let them serve openly in the ranks.
The announcement, in a series of early morning tweets, caught Pentagon officials and key members of Congress off-guard, and the Pentagon said it wouldn’t change its policies until it received a formal order from the president.
Trump said in July his concern hinged on the additional medical costs and “disruption” of such troops. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders cited “military readiness and unit cohesion.”
Care related to gender reassignment costs the Pentagon $2.4 million to $8.4 million annually, the larger number a little more than 0.1 percent of the military’s entire health-care bill, according to a 2016 Rand Corporation study. By contrast, the military spent $84 million on Viagra and other drugs for erectile dysfunction for active-duty troops, eligible family members and retirees in 2014 alone, the Military Times reported.
Treatment of transgender people has become a flashpoint in the U.S. culture wars as social conservatives lead fights in some states to require that students and sometimes adults use school and public restrooms corresponding to their gender at birth.
Trump has attempted as a candidate to thread a needle between the two sides. In his campaign, he cultivated evangelical voters while at the same time promising to “fight for” the gay and transgender community.