President Trump's Twitter announcement on Wednesday that he will not allow transgender people to serve in the military sparked a flurry of questions over what it means to the thousands of trans soldiers serving openly. But will Trump's "ban" kick transgender people out of the military? His tweet suggests it may, but how the military would go about achieving this is up in the air.
The National Center for Transgender Equality estimates that more than 15,000 trans people currently serve in the military, and more than 134,000 veterans are transgender. RAND Corporation, however, has a lower estimate of about 2,450 transgender service members, according to The New York Times.
Flooded with calls from reporters about the president's seemingly sudden ban, the Pentagon issued a statement on Wednesday, simply read: "We refer all questions about the President's statements to the White House." Reports soon emerged that the Pentagon was not informed of the ban on transgender troops before Trump announced it on Twitter, and that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was surprised by the news.
According to NBC Washington, the Pentagon's website on Wednesday morning still maintained that "transgender Service members may serve openly, and they can no longer be discharged or otherwise separated from the military solely for being transgender individuals."
Defense officials also told NBC Washington that there are some 250 service members currently transitioning to their preferred genders, or who have received the green light to change their genders in the Pentagon's personnel system.
The backlash was swift. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand issued a statement announcing that she will introduce legislation to overturn the "discriminatory decision." "These service members are willing to die for their country, and this is an insult to their brave and honorable service," she said.
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican congresswoman from Florida who has a transgender son, tweeted: "No American, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity, should be prohibited from honor + privilege of serving our nation."
The American Civil Liberties Union — a group that has already sued the president over his election commission and the travel ban this year — and issued a statement excoriating Trump's latest move.
“Let us be clear. This has been studied extensively, and the consensus is clear: There are no cost or military readiness drawbacks associated with allowing trans people to fight for their country," Joshua Block, the senior staff attorney with the ACLU's LGBT & HIV Project, said. "The president is trying to score cheap political points on the backs of military personnel who have put their lives on the line for their country."
Although Trump cited the "tremendous medical costs and disruption" of having transgender people serve in the military, a RAND Corporation study from 2016 estimated that health care costs for trans personnel would increase by $2.4 million to $8.4 million a year. Given the military's gargantuan budget, that higher estimate, according to RAND, would represent a mere "0.13-percent increase."