James Mattis Declares Transgender Troops Can Continue To Serve In The Military — For Now

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Late Tuesday night, Trump's Defense Secretary James Mattis declared a transgender military ban wouldn't be enforced until further study of the proposed ban's effects could be conducted and evaluated. Though the announcement is clearly good news for the ban's opponents, Trump's anti-transgender proposal isn't dead just yet.

"Once the panel reports its recommendations and following my consultation with the secretary of Homeland Security, I will provide my advice to the president concerning implementation of his policy direction," Mattis said in the statement. "In the interim, current policy with respect to currently serving members will remain in place."

Although some of the details remain unclear, it seems that transgender Americans will continue being able to serve if they are currently in the military, and can still sign up to join if they are not currently enlisted. Trump's proposed ban would have prevented both.

Several studies have already been commissioned on the effects of transgender service members, which largely disprove Trump's proffered reasoning for the ban. When he announced the proposed policy change via Twitter in July, Trump claimed that “tremendous medical costs and disruption” made transgender service members unfit for duty.

According to a 2015 investigation by the RAND corporation, there are as many as 15,000 current transgender service members, who would be extremely difficult and expensive to replace. A group of professors from the Naval Postgraduate School concluded that the ban would be prohibitively costly, particularly in comparison to the cost of providing medical care for transgender service members. “Fully implementing President Trump’s ban would cost $960 million in pursuit of saving $8.4 million per year,” the professors' final report read. In addition, many have cited the military's annual spending on erectile dysfunction drugs ($84 million, according to ThinkProgress) as evidence that the ban is based more in prejudice than true cost saving efforts.

Two high-profile lawsuits are currently pending against the Trump administration in regards to the ban: one by Lambda Legal on behalf of individual transgender Americans and one by the American Civil Liberties Union. These lawsuits are now essentially moot in light of Mattis' announcement, but they may continue so as to prophylactically prevent Trump from enacting similar policy.  

Until now, Trump's support for the ban has been confounding, but Mattis' announcement may have just saved him from a Catch-22. While Trump's base may support the ban, it's deeply unpopular with most of America — 68 percent of people polled said they believe transgender individuals should be allowed to serve openly in the armed forces. Now that Mattis has called it off, it may have spared Trump from detractors on both ends of the political spectrum.