Before 2016, persons who identified as “transgender” (those whose psychological “gender identity differs from their biological sex”) were generally disqualified from military service. In 2016, during its last year, the Obama administration reversed that policy. However, in July 2017, President Trump announced he would return to the previous policy, and in March 2018, Defense Secretary James Mattis issued a 44-page “Report and Recommendations” laying out a new policy to exclude those with “gender dysphoria” from the military. Although lower federal courts had blocked implementation of the Trump/Mattis policy in four lawsuits, in January 2019 the U.S. Supreme Court put these lower court rulings on hold, allowing the policy to be implemented pending further litigation.
Three main reasons were cited for the Trump/Mattis policy:
- Mental Health: “Transgender persons with gender dysphoria suffer from high rates of mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and substance use disorders,” as well as “[h]igh rates of suicide ideation, attempts, and completion.” Typical treatments for gender dysphoria have not been shown to restore most patients to a level of mental health comparable to the general population. “Service members with gender dysphoria are eight times more likely to attempt suicide than Service members as a whole . . .” and “nine times more likely to have mental health encounters.”
- Physical Health: High physical standards are important to the military both because of the demands of combat and because of the need to be available for deployment anywhere in the world at any time without the need for specialized medical care. Cross-sex hormone therapy is an example of specialized care that may not be available everywhere in the world. “Sex reassignment surgery” may require several months of limited duty, depending on the procedure.
- Sex-Based Standards: “Because [some] sex-based standards are based on legitimate biological differences between males and females, . . . a person’s physical biology should dictate which standards apply.” Making distinctions based on gender identity instead makes no sense. For example, allowing a biological male who still has male anatomy but identifies as female to use female “berthing, bathroom, and shower facilities” undermines the “reasonable expectations of privacy” of biological females. Allowing a biological male who identifies as female to meet female physical fitness standards and compete in athletics with biological females is unfair to other biological males (who must meet a higher standard) and to biological females (who may face a safety risk competing against a biological male).
For these reasons, “the Department of Defense concludes that there are substantial risks associated with allowing the accession and retention of individuals with a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria . . . [T]he Department also finds that exempting such persons for well-established mental health, physical health, and sex-based standards, which apply to all Service members, could undermine readiness, disrupt unit cohesion, and impose an unreasonable burden on the military that is not conducive to military effectiveness and lethality.”