WASHINGTON (AFP) — President Donald Trump on Friday signed a memo effectively barring transgender people from joining the US military, but left the fate of those already serving up to the Pentagon.
In a widely anticipated move, aides said Trump directed the military “to return to the longstanding policy and practice on military service by transgender individuals prior to June 2016.”
That means an effective ban on new openly transgender personnel and on payment for treatment for those already in the armed forces.
Trump last month deployed a series of tweets that called into question an Obama-era policy of allowing transgender troops to serve openly.
The tweets came with little apparent coordination with the Pentagon, resulting in speculation about the fate of between 1,320 and 15,000 transgender personnel already serving.
Their futures will now be decided by Secretary of Defense James Mattis.
Several senior military officials had voiced unease over the policy shift, with the head of the Coast Guard saying he would not “break faith” with transgender personnel.
He said there were 13 Coast Guard members who have come out as transgender, noting “all of them are doing meaningful Coast Guard work today.”
A day after the president’s initial announcement, General Joe Dunford, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sent a short memo to senior officers and enlisted leaders that the current policy should remain in effect until Trump gives formal direction to the Pentagon and Mattis issues new guidance.
“In the meantime, we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect,” Dunford wrote.
Five transgender women in the US military are suing Trump and the Pentagon over the tweets, saying they faced uncertainty about their futures, including whether they would be fired or lose post-military and retirement benefits.
Trump has said he did the Pentagon a “great favor” by banning transgender troops, saying the issue had been “complicated” and “confusing” for the military.
In the directive he suggested Obama had not thought through whether the policy would “hinder military effectiveness and lethality, (or) disrupt unit cohesion.”