Press Release

After All Four Military Service Chiefs Confirm Transgender Troops Have Not Harmed Unit Cohesion, Discipline, Or Morale, Gillibrand Leads Bipartisan Group Of 50 Senators In Telling Defense Secretary Mattis Transgender Troop Ban Is Harmful To Military

Apr 26, 2018

Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), the Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee, today led a bipartisan group of 50 Senators in a letter to Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis opposing the Trump Administration’s ban on transgender service members and decrying the Secretary’s implementation recommendations for the ban. The Senators’ letter follows statements by the chiefs of the Army, Navy, and Air Force and commandant of the Marine Corps asserting that open transgender service has had no negative effect on unit cohesion, discipline, or morale. The statements were made in response to Senator Gillibrand’s questions at four recent Senate Armed Services Committee hearings.

“The recommendations and report break faith with the men and women serving in our military by establishing a new “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” for transgender service members, permitting them to serve only if they are willing to forego any chance of living as their true selves,” the Senators wrote. “Just as our mistaken policy regarding lesbian, gay and bisexual service members harmed readiness and ultimately was repealed, the implementation of your recommendations will also harm our nation’s military. Accordingly, we are opposed to the implementation of this discriminatory policy.”

“The Senators who signed the letter to Secretary Mattis are rightly concerned that the Pentagon is taking aim at its own troops, and doing so on the basis of false and misleading claims about the research that shows that inclusion promotes readiness, and that transgender troops are as medically fit as their peers,” said Dr. Aaron Belkin, Director of the Palm Center.

“Today’s letter reflects the overwhelming bipartisan opposition among both members of Congress and the American public to this president’s dangerous and unconstitutional ban on transgender troops,” said Human Rights Campaign Government Affairs Director David Stacy. “The implementation guidance issued by the Trump-Pence administration was fundamentally flawed and misleading in its assessments and conclusion. Since the President’s first reckless and impulsive tweets on this matter, military leadership, medical experts and federal courts have all affirmed the fact that there is simply no reason to bar qualified transgender people from serving their country. The Human Rights Campaign is grateful to Senator Gillibrand for her ongoing leadership on this critical issue — and we thank all members of Congress from both parties who continue to speak out in support of our brave service members.”

“This bipartisan letter from nearly four dozen members of the U.S. Senate, led by Senator Gillibrand, is a powerful rebuke to the implementation plan for President Trump’s discriminatory and unconstitutional attempt to ban transgender people from the Armed Forces. The implementation plan released on March 23rd was nothing more than transphobia masquerading as policy. This letter makes clear that transgender people in our military deserve more from their government than a policy that coerces them into choosing between their humanity and their country and that tells them that they are not welcome. It’s very encouraging to see this support for transgender service members from so many senators. The ACLU will continue to work with Democratic and Republican allies in Congress to vigorously oppose this reckless and unconstitutional policy,” said Ian Thompson, Legislative Representative for the ACLU.

As part of the requirements set out by President Trump after his announcement of a ban on transgender service, Secretary Mattis submitted to the President his recommendations on how to implement the President’s ban as well as a report from a panel he established to assess the issue. These documents were made public in a Department of Justice court filing on March 23, 2018. The recommendations and report ignore the scientific consensus about transgender individuals’ physical and mental ability to serve in the military. The recommendations also contradict the recent statements by the four military service chiefs that open transgender service members have not affected good order and discipline or unit cohesion.

In the letter, the Senators decry the recommendations and urge Secretary Mattis to establish a fair policy that allows any Americans who are willing and capable of serving their country to join the military. The bipartisan letter was signed by Senators Gillibrand (D-NY) and Murkowski (R-AK), Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), and Senators Baldwin (D-WI), Bennet (D-CO), Blumenthal (D-CT), Booker (D-NJ), Brown (D-OH), Cantwell (D-WA), Cardin (D-MD), Carper (D-DE), Casey (D-PA), Collins (R-ME), Coons (D-DE), Cortez Masto (D-NV), Donnelly (D-IN), Duckworth (D-IL), Durbin (D-IL), Feinstein (D-CA), Harris (D-CA), Hassan (D-NH), Heinrich (D-NM), Heitkamp (D-ND), Hirono (D-HI), Jones (D-AL), Kaine (D-VA), King (I-ME), Klobuchar (D-MN), Leahy (D-VT), Markey (D-MA), McCaskill (D-MO), Menendez (D-NJ), Merkley (D-OR), Murphy (D-CT), Murray (D-WA), Nelson (D-FL), Peters (D-MI), Reed (D-RI), Sanders (I-VT), Schatz (D-HI), Shaheen (D-NH), Smith (D-MN), Stabenow (D-MI), Tester (D-MT), Udall (D-NM), Van Hollen (D-MD), Warner (D-VA), Warren (D-MA), Whitehouse (D-RI), and Wyden (D-OR).

The text of the Senators’ letter is available here and below:

April 26, 2018

The Honorable James N. Mattis

Secretary of Defense

1100 Defense Pentagon

Washington, D.C. 20301

Dear Secretary Mattis,

We write with great concern and disappointment about your implementation policy recommendations for President Trump’s transgender ban that were released on March 23, 2018. The recommendations and their supporting report are contrary to medical and scientific consensus and misrepresent the most comprehensive analysis of the costs and implications of transgender service, published by RAND for the Department only two years ago. The recommendations and report break faith with the men and women serving in our military by establishing a new “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” for transgender service members, permitting them to serve only if they are willing to forego any chance of living as their true selves. Just as our mistaken policy regarding lesbian, gay and bisexual service members harmed readiness and ultimately was repealed, the implementation of your recommendations will also harm our nation’s military. Accordingly, we are opposed to the implementation of this discriminatory policy.

This new policy came as a surprise to many of us, particularly in light of the many statements—from all levels of military and political leadership under your tenure—arguing that open service has had no impact on readiness or good order and discipline, and that transgender service members should be treated with dignity and respect and allowed to serve as long as they meet the standards. Just last month, Secretary of the Army Mark Esper told the press that the issue of transgender service “has not come up” in his conversations with soldiers. Last year, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joe Dunford testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that “[a]ny individual who meets the physical and mental standards and is worldwide deployable and is currently serving should be afforded the opportunity to continue to serve.” Last year, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright told airmen that “[t]here was a time when I couldn‘t serve in our United States Air Force. There was a time when my wife, who is retired, couldn’t serve in our United States Air Force, because [the military] thought it would be too disruptive. So as long as they are in uniform and considered airmen in our United States Air Force, we treat them with the same level of dignity and respect we would treat any other airmen.” And 56 retired general and flag officers said after the initial announcement of the ban that the President’s “proposed ban, if implemented, would cause significant disruptions, deprive the military of mission-critical talent, and compromise the integrity of transgender troops who would be forced to live a lie, as well as non-transgender peers who would be forced to choose between reporting their comrades or disobeying policy. As a result, the proposed ban would degrade readiness even more than the failed ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy.”

Yet, on March 23, in ongoing litigation challenging the President’s proposed ban, the Department of Justice filed a declaration in federal court that included a memo under your signature providing implementation recommendations to the President that would essentially bar transgender service members from accession and retention.

These recommendations purport to be based on an attached report that misrepresents the scientific consensus on gender dysphoria and falsely claims that transgender individuals cannot meet the same physical and mental health standards applied to others. These misrepresentations are in contravention of the conclusions of medical and mental health professionals about gender dysphoria and transgender service in the military. The American Medical Association reiterated its stance on April 3, 2018, that “[w]e believe there is no medically valid reason—including a diagnosis of gender dysphoria—to exclude transgender individuals from military service.” The American Psychological Association released the following statement:

The American Psychological Association is alarmed by the administration’s misuse of psychological science to stigmatize transgender Americans and justify limiting their ability to serve in uniform and access medically necessary health care.

Substantial psychological research shows that gender dysphoria is a treatable condition, and does not, by itself, limit the ability of individuals to function well and excel in their work, including in military service. The science is clear that individuals who are adequately treated for gender dysphoria should not be considered mentally unstable. Additionally, the incidence of gender dysphoria is extremely low.

No scientific evidence has shown that allowing transgender people to serve in the armed forces has an adverse impact on readiness or unit cohesion. What research does show is that discrimination and stigma undermine morale and readiness by creating a significant source of stress for sexual minorities that can harm their health and well-being.

Further, in a statement issued on March 28, former U.S. Surgeons General M. Joycelyn Elders and David Satcher debunked the report’s assertion that there is “considerable scientific uncertainty and overall lack of high quality scientific evidence demonstrating the extent to which transition-related treatments … remedy the multifaceted mental health problems associated with gender dysphoria.” The former surgeons general counter that “there is a global medical consensus that such care is reliable, safe, and effective” and conclude that “[a]n expectation of certainty is an unrealistic and counterproductive standard of evidence for health policy—whether civilian or military—because even the most well-established medical treatments could not satisfy that standard” and setting such a standard “suggests an inability to refute the research.” Finally, they “underscore that transgender troops are as medically fit as their non-transgender peers and that there is no medically valid reason—including a diagnosis of gender dysphoria—to exclude them from military service or to limit their access to medically necessary care.”

The March 23 report also claims that “[u]nlike past reviews, the Panel’s analysis was informed by the Department’s own data and experience obtained since the Carter policy took effect.” However, most of the bases for the report’s recommendations are not grounded in any reported experience from the last two years, but rather in “potential” issues. For example, the report asserts that “[t]he potential for discord in the unit during the routine execution of daily activities is substantial and highlights the fundamental incompatibility of the Department’s legitimate military interest in uniformity, the privacy interests of all Service members, and the interest of transgender individuals in an appropriate accommodation.” Given that the Department’s experience with open service should, after almost two years, include “routine execution of daily activities,” it is telling that this conclusion is offered without evidence of such “discord.” It is one of many such assertions that open transgender service poses problems made without any evidence drawn from “the Department’s own data and experience.”

The Department of Defense and every service promised their transgender service members that they would be treated with dignity and respect. These recommendations and report fail in that promise. The report has provided no proof that open transgender service would undermine readiness, yet has been used to recommend a policy that would deny transgender Americans the opportunity to serve their country unless they hide their identities. 

In 2010, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen told Congress with regard to the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy: “No matter how I look at the issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens. … For me, personally, it comes down to integrity — theirs as individuals and ours as an institution….I also believe that the great young men and women of our military can and would accommodate such a change. I never underestimate their ability to adapt.”

These words are as true today as they were in 2010. At a time when the U.S. military is struggling to recruit and retain the number of quality individuals that it requires to meet today’s challenging environment, this policy will undermine morale within the services and send a message to young Americans that the military is an outdated institution that discriminates against those who are able and want to serve simply because of who they are.

We strongly oppose your recommendations. Rather than a policy which excludes all transgender individuals, the military should establish a policy which includes all Americans who are willing to serve and a policy that reasonably protects the military’s interest as an employer in providing necessary medical care for those willing to serve our country.