Congress wants answers on who advised Trump on transgender military ban

After a handful of top military and civilian officials have come out publicly in support of transgender troops’ right to stay in the military, many are wondering how President Donald Trump came to his decision to ban transgender people currently serving.

Rep. A. Donald McEachin (D-Va.), along with  more than 110 other lawmakers, is requesting that exact information.

In an Oct. 10 letter, the lawmakers are requesting information about “what discussions or correspondence between the Pentagon, if any, led President Trump to make his assertion.” The letter asks for any letters, emails, telephone transcripts, meeting logs or other material.

“We seek access to these materials in order to determine whether the president, his national security team and military leaders are actively coordinating policy with one another, or whether the president’s transgender ban announcement reflected a breakdown in communication,” the letter stated.

Trump’s July 26 tweets announcing the ban stated, “after consultation with my generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military.”

However, Trump’s military advisers are saying the exact opposite. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft, Navy Secretary Richard Spencer and other officials have all expressed support for keeping transgender people in the military.

“I believe any individual who meets the physical and mental standards, and is worldwide-deployable and is currently serving, should be afforded the opportunity to continue to serve,” Dunford told Congress on Sept. 26.

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Zukunft said he reached out to the 13 transgender members of the Coast Guard after Trump’s tweets and assured them he would not turn his back on them.

“We have made an investment in you and you have made an investment in the Coast Guard, and I will not break faith,” Zukunft said in August.

Spencer told reporters in August that he believed any patriot should be able to serve in the military.

National Center for Lesbian Rights Legal Director Shannon Minter and GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders Transgender Rights Project Director Jennifer Levi applauded the letter.

“We commend the more than 100 Members of Congress who are demanding answers about why the President reversed military policy without input from military advisers. The President’s blatant disregard for military judgment destabilizes military operations and weakens our Armed Forces,” they said in a joint statement.

The Defense Department is currently conducting a review of transgender people in the military and will offer suggestions as to how to carry out the ban once the review is complete.

DoD issued an interim policy on the issue, which keeps transgender troops in the military, but suspends the accession of transgender people.

“It’s never bad to have more information, but that having been said, the topic has already been studied to death and every study has come up with the same conclusion, which is that inclusive policy for LGBT troops promotes readiness. If Secretary Mattis undertakes a fair and comprehensive process, he will reach the same conclusion as every other researcher,” said Aaron Belkin, executive director of the Palm Center, a research group that focuses on LGBTQ issues.

Two of the most recent and widely circulated studies on the cost and effect of transgender troops in the military come from the RAND Corporation and the New England Journal of Medicine.

The RAND study stated the cost of keeping transgender individuals and new recruits in the military is estimated to cost between $2.4 million and $8.4 million annually in total.

The New England Journal of Medicine study, which was conducted by Belkin, stated the provision of transition-related care will cost the military $5.6 million annually, or 22 cents per [military] member per month.

The military would also lose its investment in the transgender troops it’s already trained, some of which include pilots, doctors and other positions DoD is short on.

There are currently four court cases pending on the transgender military ban.

Most recently, the White House lobbied a district court to drop one case, stating the case is premature because DoD still does not have an official policy on transgender people serving in the military. Furthermore, the interim policy released by DoD on Sept. 14 does not separate or deny reenlistment to any transgender individuals serving in the military. Transgender troops are also provided medical treatment under the current policy.