New Years’ Day marked an auspicious first for the armed forces. On Jan. 1, transgender people were finally allowed to enlist in the military following a months-long battle with the Trump administration.
Per Pentagon guidelines, trans applicants will be permitted to join if they have “been stable in the preferred gender for 18 months.” The regulations state that transgender troops must have “completed all medical treatment associated with [their] gender transition” or demonstrated that they have “been stable on… hormones for 18 months,” along with certification from a medical professional.
Trans individuals were originally slated to begin enlisting on July 1, 2017 following a 2016 order from Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, but that start date was delayed after a series of tweets from President Donald Trump opposing transgender military service.
He tweeted in July that the Pentagon would “not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity,” citing “tremendous medical costs and disruption.”
Although the president would sign a directive in August putting that proposed policy into effect, it was blocked in a series of federal court rulings. U.S. District Judges Marvin Garbis in Baltimore and Colleen Kollar-Kotelly in Washington D.C. both ruled against the ban. In a November decision, Garbis argued that preventing trans military service “cannot possibly constitute a legitimate governmental interest.”
After another federal court ruled against an emergency motion to delay transgender enlistment on Dec. 22, the White House claimed it would stop appealing the verdicts.
“The Department of Defense has announced that it will be releasing an independent study of these issues in the coming weeks,” an anonymous official within the administration claimed in a statement. “So rather than litigate this interim appeal before that occurs, the administration has decided to wait for DOD’s study and will continue to defend the president’s lawful authority in District Court in the meantime.”
The president had ordered Gen. James Mattis of the Department of Defense to issue him a plan to implement his policy by March 23.
Mattis has said that the military will continue to comply with court orders. “We’ll obey whatever the law says,” the Secretary of Defense told reporters last week. “It’s a court case right now. […] The Department of Justice is handling it.”
A 2016 RAND corporation study, which was commissioned by the Pentagon, found that allowing transgender people to enter the military will entail “relatively low” medical costs, as well as having a “minimal” impact on unit cohesion and troop readiness. The independent research group found that between 1,320 and 6,630 trans individuals were already serving in active duty.