Pentagon quiet on new transgender troop policy, citing ongoing litigation

The chief spokesperson refused to provide any clarity on the new policy.

March 29, 2018, 3:20 PM

Following the White House release of a new policy that banned some transgender service members, the Department of Defense is refusing to provide clarity on that policy, citing ongoing legal challenges.

In the meantime, the Pentagon will allow currently-serving transgender individuals to keep their jobs and permit others to enter the military.

Late Friday night, the White House released a short memo from President Donald Trump to Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen stating the administration concurred with a policy for transgender service members privately recommended by Mattis in late February.

"Among other things, the policies set forth by the Secretary of Defense state that transgender persons with a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria – individuals who the policies state may require substantial medical treatment, including medications and surgery – are disqualified from military service except under certain limited circumstances," Trump stated in his memo.

The Department of Defense then posted on its website Friday night a 48 page document which detailed Mattis' recommendation, as well as findings from a "panel of experts" established to study the effects of transgender service members in the military.

But in the week following the policy's release, the Pentagon has been silent, not answering questions from reporters seeking clarity on a new policy that affects nearly 9,000 transgender service members and an unknown number of transgender individuals wishing to join the U.S. military.

Federal courts began rejecting portions of the proposed ban after Trump tweeted in July that transgender individuals should not serve because the military "must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory."

Most notably, beginning Jan. 1, the Pentagon complied with a court order that allowed transgender individuals to join the military if they met strict criteria, including certifications from a medical provider about the status of their health.

"[DoD] will continue to comply with four court orders, assessing transgender applicants for military service and retaining current transgender service members," chief Pentagon spokesperson Dana White told reporters Thursday. "Because there is ongoing litigation, and to safeguard the integrity of the court process, I am unable to provide any further details at this time."

White continually cited ongoing litigation as to why she could not discuss any aspect of the new policy, referring reporters to the Department of Justice.

"The documents are there. They are free for you to read. We put them up as soon as we could," she said, adding the documents "stand for themselves."

Earlier this week, Mattis deferred questions from reporters about his own recommendation, citing ongoing litigation.

At a breakfast with reporters Thursday, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein also dodged attempts to get clarification on the policy by citing the court process.

Aaron Belkin, the director of the Palm Center – which promotes the study of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in the armed forces, said the Pentagon's silence has left transgender service members in an uncertain position.

"They've been in limbo now for a long time," Belkin told ABC News on Thursday.

Asked if someone at the Department of Justice could offer clarity on the new policy, a DOJ spokesperson told ABC News that the department would not comment beyond its public court filings.

“After comprehensive study and analysis, the Secretary of Defense concluded that new policies should be adopted regarding individuals with gender dysphoria that are consistent with military effectiveness and lethality, budgetary constraints, and applicable law," DOJ spokesperson Kerri Kupec said in a statement.

"The Department of Justice will continue to defend DOD’s lawful authority to create and implement personnel policies they have determined are necessary to best defend our nation. Consistent with this new policy, we are asking the courts to lift all related preliminary injunctions in order to ensure the safety and security of the American people and the best fighting force in the world.”

But Belkin argued that, in the long term, the policy toward transgender service members will be an inclusive one.

"Over the long haul, you can't have a policy that treats one group of service members different than everybody else," he said. "That's why 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' failed."

"We're not distracted by what the Pentagon is saying or not saying now," Belkin added.

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