Imagine being transgender and serving your country in the United States military. Having known for years that you would be forbidden from serving your country if you revealed your identity, you're forced to suppress it and focus on your service. Last year, President Obama announced a plan to allow transgender individuals to serve — and more than 200 transgender individuals are openly serving as we speak. Then, out of the blue, the new president announces that this won't happen after all, and that you remain unable to serve your country and be openly trans. All of which begs the question: Can Trump's transgender military ban be overturned?
Unfortunately, it's not as simple as legally overturning, for example, the travel ban — which itself has been far from simple. That's because Trump's ban on members of Muslim-majority countries entering the United States was a new policy, and one subject to change if the courts stood in his way, at least theoretically. Believe it or not, the military has never officially allowed active trans servicemembers — at least, not technically. In 2016, when Obama announced his plan to welcome trans servicemembers, that plan remained just that — a plan.
Upon Obama leaving office, Trump installed James Mattis, a now-retired four-star general, as Secretary of Defense. In late June, Mattis signaled that he might have reservations about Obama's push for civil rights in the military by delaying Obama's plan for six months. At the time, he noted that this was to give his department more time to fully consider its options.
Since becoming the Secretary of Defense, I have emphasized that the Department of Defense must measure each policy decision against one critical standard: will the decision affect the readiness and lethality of the force?
With Trump's Wednesday announcement that Obama's plan would not, in fact, be put into place, Trump effectively restored the military to the state it was in prior to Obama's announcement. Therefore, it is harder to overturn a change that isn't really a change at all — it's a lack of a proposed change.
This will prove problematic in more than one way: Since Obama's announcement, hundreds of trans servicemembers have come forward to reveal their identity. The big question is what happens to these individuals, who were told it was safe to serve openly as transgender and are now being informed — via Twitter — that, once again, they would not be allowed to serve their country as their true selves.