Trump bans ‘disruptive’ transgender troops

Yes we ban: Trump’s July tweets triggered angry protests by transgender rights groups. © Getty

Last year, openly transgender people were allowed into the US military for the first time. Now Trump has banned them again. Why the U-turn? How political should the military be?

One month after declaring on Twitter that transgender troops cause “tremendous medical costs and disruption”, Donald Trump has signed a presidential memorandum officially banning transgender individuals from enlisting in the military.

The ban reverses a historic Obama-era plan to allow openly transgender troops. Under the policy, announced last year, the Pentagon would also have paid for its employees’ gender reassignment surgery. Recently conservative Republicans in Congress had been trying to get rid of this provision. Their efforts reportedly convinced Trump to act.

Friday’s memo also bans the Department of Defence from providing medical treatment regimens for transgender individuals already serving in the military. It is not yet known how this will affect current transgender troops, but Pentagon officials have been directed to consider “all factors that may be relevant,” the White House said.

Though praised by some conservatives, the move has been criticised by moderate Republicans and Democrats, as well as activists. They argue that the annual cost of surgery is estimated at $2.4m to $8.4m — meaning a 0.04% to 0.13% increase in military health care spending. In other words, hardly “tremendous”.

Trump’s ban is the latest twist in the vexed issue of sexual and gender identity in the armed forces. The debate is as old as the nation: under Washington, a lieutenant was expelled from the army for committing “sodomy”.

Homosexuals were explicitly banned from serving in the 20th century, on the grounds that they would undermine morale, trust and effectiveness in the military. Under Bill Clinton, they were allowed to serve again on the condition that they kept quiet about their sexuality.

This policy, known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, was replaced by Obama with a full lift of the ban in 2011. The same rights were given to transgender people in 2016.

Each development has prompted discussion about the military’s role in relation to social issues. How involved should it get?

Fight or flight

“Not at all,” say some. Anyone should be allowed to serve — there is no evidence that gay or transgender troops are a threat. But when the military takes public stances on gender issues, and even pays for surgery, it is forgetting its role. It is there to protect the nation, not to partake in distracting social experiments.

“You’re wrong,” reply others. The US military is the world’s biggest employer; in many ways, it is a microcosm of society. It simply cannot avoid social issues. Its decisions — on gender, health, pay, everything — set an example for everyone else. It has a duty to think about them carefully, then defend them publicly.

You Decide

  1. Was Trump right to ban transgender troops?
  2. Is Twitter a good way to announce policies?


  1. Trump initially announced his ban in three tweets. Summarise this article in three tweets (maximum for each tweet 140 characters).
  2. Choose a country that allows transgender people to serve in its military (use the links in Become An Expert for help). In a presentation to the class, describe the history of transgender laws in that country, comparing it to the US position.

Some People Say...

“Gender is the most important part of one’s identity.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Under Obama’s policy, the military was due to start recruiting transgender people as of July 1st. In June, the defence secretary, James Mattis, announced a delay, as the armed forces needed more time to study the issue. Transgender people who were already serving at the time of Obama’s announcement were allowed to continue doing so, openly. Under Trump’s new ban, transgender individuals will not be able to enlist, and the Department of Defence has been barred from providing medical treatment regimens to those currently enlisted.
What do we not know?
How the ban will affect transgender troops currently serving. The Departments of Defence and Homeland Security have been tasked with devising a plan for how to address transgender individuals who are already serving openly.

Word Watch

According to Politico, House Republicans had threatened to vote down a spending bill that contained money for some of Trump’s flagship policies if the funding for gender reassignment surgery was not dropped.
According to a 2016 report by the RAND Corporation, commissioned by the Department of Defence. The same report estimates that between 1,320 and 6,630 of the 1.3m active-duty personnel are transgender. Some activist groups put the figure as high as 15,000.
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
Clinton campaigned to fully lift the ban on gay personnel, but faced strong opposition from pressure groups, military leaders and conservative members of Congress. This policy was a compromise.
Same rights
Transgender people were banned from military service by policies from the 1960s which referred to their “gender identity disorders”. They were excluded from “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.
World’s biggest employer
The Department of Defence has a workforce of 3.2m, according to the World Economic Forum. The runner-up is the Chinese army, at 2.3m. Third comes Walmart with 2.1m.


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