Trump's trans military ban eschews years of research in favor of junk science from a hate group

President Donald Trump announced via Twitter on July 26 that he would reinstate a ban on transgender individuals serving in the United States military, citing “tremendous medical costs” and “disruption.” The announcement came just two days after anti-LGBTQ hate group Family Research Council published a report on the issue -- which was parroted by right-wing media -- that stated the projected costs of trans-inclusive military service would amount to 8 times higher than previous estimates. FRC’s projections run counter to the large body of research and years of analysis that was used to inform then-President Barack Obama’s decision to allow transgender people to serve openly in the armed forces.

Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

Trump announced decision to reimplement a ban on transgender military service in a series of tweets

Trump tweeted his decision to reimplement a ban on transgender people from serving in U.S. military, citing “tremendous medical costs” and “disruption.” In a series of tweets published on July 26, President Donald Trump said that the United States will no longer “accept or allow” transgender people to serve in the military. Trump continued, “Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.” [Twitter, 7/26/17, 7/26/17, 7/26/17]

AP: Pentagon officials were caught off guard by Trump’s early morning tweets, which “did not say what would happen to transgender people already in the military.” According to The Associated Press, transgender people have openly served in the armed forces since June 2016, when then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter lifted a prior ban. The Associated Press reported that Pentagon staff, including those serving under current Defense Secretary Jim Mattis “appeared to have been caught off guard by Trump’s tweets.” The article stated that defense officials estimated that there are up to 250 service members in the process of transitioning within the Pentagon system, adding that the fate of those who are already on active duty is unclear at this point. [The Associated Press, 7/26/17]

Anti-LGBTQ hate group Family Research Council estimated in a recent report, amplified in right-wing media, that trans-inclusive military service would cost $1.9 billion to $3.7 billion over a decade

Family Research Council: Over the next 10 years, allowing transgender people to serve in the military could cost “as much as $1.9 to $3.7 billion.” Anti-LGBTQ hate group Family Research Council (FRC) published a report in July by senior policy fellow Peter Sprigg that claimed the cost of allowing transgender people to serve in the military would actually be up to 8 times higher than previous estimates. Included in this total was both “direct medical costs and the cost of potential lost time of deployable service.” Just a few days before the report’s release, FRC began to run political ads that claimed health care costs for transgender service members would compromise military spending and that featured personal photos of transgender former soldier Chelsea Manning. [Family Research Council, accessed 7/26/17, 7/24/17; HuffPost, 7/20/17]

Right-wing media outlets amplified FRC’s exaggerated projections on the cost of allowing transgender people to openly serve in the military. Right-wing media outlets including Barbwire, CBN News, and Newsmax provided a platform for FRC representatives to spread misinformation under the guise of “research” and to help bolster the organization’s claims. [Barbwire, 7/23/17; CBN News, 7/24/17; Newsmax 7/25/17]

Numerous studies found that removing the ban on trans military service would not impact readiness, incur minimal costs, and Defense Department said a decision that was made carefully

Leading researchers on trans military service: “There is no compelling medical reason for the ban on service,” and health care for trans service members “should be managed using the same standards that apply to all others.” After conducting a review of 18 countries that allow transgender troops to serve openly, along with a review of Department of Defense policies, leading researchers and experts published a 2014 report on transgender military service in a peer-reviewed academic journal concluding that there is “no compelling medical reason” for a ban on transgender people serving in the military. They also found that any associated medical care costs should be “managed using the same standards that apply to all others,” saying removing the ban “would improve health outcomes, enable commanders to better care for their troops, and reflect the military’s commitment to providing outstanding medical care for all military personnel.” An article published the following year estimated that a repeal of the ban would cost the military approximately $5.6 million annually to provide transition-related health care for active personnel. [Medical Aspects of Transgender Military Service, Sage Journals, 8/19/14; Palm Center, 3/14/14; New England Journal of Medicine, 9/17/15]

Rand Corporation: Allowing transgender people to openly serve in the military would have “minimal likely impact” on military readiness and would result in “relatively low” additional health care costs. The Pentagon commissioned the Rand Corporation to conduct a 2016 review and economic analysis of the potential impact of allowing transgender people to openly serve in the military. The study estimated that increases to annual health care costs would fall between $2.4 and $8.4 million annually, accounting for only a “0.04- to 0.13-percent increase in active-component health care expenditures,” noting that the impact on the budget was “relatively low.” Further, based on evidence from foreign militaries, the report concluded that inclusive military service would have “little or no impact on unit cohesion, operational effectiveness, or readiness. Commanders noted that the policies had benefits for all service members by creating a more inclusive and diverse force.” [Rand Corporation, accessed 7/26/17]

Department of Defense: Trans-inclusive military service policy was crafted through “comprehensive and inclusive process” with a variety of stakeholder input. An online page for the Department of Defense’s “transgender policy,” which is still available on the department’s website, highlights that the decisions to lift the ban on military service was made via a “comprehensive and inclusive process that included the leadership of the Armed Services, medical and personnel experts across the Department, transgender Service members, outside medical experts, advocacy groups, and the RAND Corporation.” [Department of Defense Transgender Policy, accessed 7/26/17]

Mainstream media outlets debunk Trump’s false claims that transgender troops are a “tremendous” financial burden. In response to Trump’s assertions that transgender service members would incur “tremendous” health care costs, mainstream media outlets responded by citing numerous researches that countered this false narrative. HuffPost pointed to the Rand Corporation’s initial 2016 estimates and also mentioned a study, published in 2015, which said the increased costs were the equivalent to “little more than a rounding error.” Similarly, CNN reported that this cost increase was just a fraction of a percentage point of total military health care spending alone, which in itself is just a part of the total overall budget. People magazine fired back saying that the cost of trans-inclusive military service were “exceedingly small” and compared estimates to the military’s spending on providing Viagra, which is $41.6 million annually. [HuffPost, 7/26/17; CNN, 7/26/17; People magazine, 7/26/17]