Peter Sprigg is Senior Fellow for Policy Studies at Family Research Council. This article appeared in The Federalist on February 1, 2021.
Among the flurry of executive orders President Joe Biden signed during his first week in office was one declaring that “gender identity should not be a bar to military service.” Of course, both males and females have long been able to serve. What Biden means is that “transgender” people — those who psychologically identify with the opposite sex — should be allowed to serve, and to serve as their preferred sex.
The order declares, “All Americans who are qualified to serve in the Armed Forces … should be able to serve.” Yet this is begging the question. Who is qualified to serve?
The Biden action was a reversal of Trump administration policy, which in turn had reversed a policy implemented by Barack Obama (Congress has never legislated on this issue). Yet the Obama administration policy allowing self-identified transgender people to serve in the military as their opposite sex was not adopted until President Obama was nearly out of office.
For all of American history until 2016 — including the first seven and a half years of Barack Obama’s eight-year presidency — people who identified as transgender were excluded on grounds of mental or physical health.
The Biden executive order appealed to “a meticulous, comprehensive study” issued in 2016 that asserted that allowing “transgender individuals to serve” would have “a minimal impact on military readiness and healthcare costs.” The “nonpartisan federally funded research center” that published this study was the RAND Corporation. On the other hand, said Biden, “the previous [Trump] administration relied on a review that resulted in a policy that set unnecessary barriers to military service.”
Biden failed to explain this “review” was conducted by the Department of Defense. The findings were published in a March 2018 “Report and Recommendations.” A comparison of the RAND study with the Pentagon report helps to put the issue in perspective.
Most importantly, the RAND study was speculative and released around the time the Obama policy was announced. Since transgender people had never been permitted to serve in the U.S. military, RAND could only make projections based on experiences in the private sector and in other countries.
The Pentagon, on the other hand, provided actual data based on the 20 months or so of experience between when the Obama policy took effect and when the “Report and Recommendations” were issued, resulting in some interesting contrasts.
The RAND Corporation estimated “there are between 1,320 and 6,630 transgender personnel serving” on active duty. The Pentagon, however, reported that between October 2015 and October 2017, there were only “994 active duty Service members diagnosed with gender dysphoria.”
Thus, the RAND study may have overestimated the number of transgender service members. Not everyone who identifies as transgender is diagnosed with “gender dysphoria,” which implies subjective distress over one’s “gender incongruity.” Such a diagnosis, however, was required for a gender “transition” even under the Obama policy.
Additionally, RAND seems to have underestimated the number of transgender service members who would seek specialized medical care. They estimated a maximum of 129 service members annually would use “transition-related health care.” Yet the Pentagon reported they had already approved 424 “treatment plans” in less than two years.
RAND estimated that 140 members of the current force would seek “hormone therapy” and 130 would seek “gender transition-related surgeries.” The actual treatment plans showed numbers that were more than 250 percent of the RAND estimates. The reason RAND concluded allowing transgender military service would have “minimal impact” on readiness and costs is because so few service members identify as transgender, not because they are, individually, just as fit to serve.
The Pentagon study notes “medical costs for Service members with gender dysphoria have increased nearly three times — or 300 percent — compared to Service members without gender dysphoria.” They are also “eight times more likely to attempt suicide” and “nine times more likely to have mental health encounters.”
Biden cites the RAND study to conclude transgender service members “had no significant impact on operational effectiveness or unit cohesion in foreign militaries.” Yet, as the Pentagon report notes, RAND acknowledged that in foreign militaries, “it is sometimes necessary to restrict the deployment of transitioning individuals.”
As for unit cohesion, the Pentagon cited an actual incident that resulted in “dueling equal opportunity complaints” — one from a biological male who identifies as female and demanded access to female shower facilities, and the other from a biological female charging this violated her privacy. Such challenges go far beyond any experience in integrating black Americans, women, or gays and lesbians into the military.
Ironically, the effect of President Biden’s “non-discrimination” policy is to discriminate in favor of transgender-identified service members. Other people with mutilated genitalia are not permitted to serve in the military, nor are those dependent on lifelong specialized medical treatment like hormones, nor are those with serious mental health conditions — only transgender people.
It is not military effectiveness that motivates the Biden policy. It is political correctness, pure and simple.