Pentagon’s New Transgender Policy Strikes Right Balance for Military

COMMENTARY Defense

Pentagon’s New Transgender Policy Strikes Right Balance for Military

Jun 7th, 2018 2 min read
COMMENTARY BY
Thomas Spoehr

Director, Center for National Defense

Thomas W. Spoehr conducts and supervises research on national defense matters.
Americans deserve to know that the Defense Department has done a commendable job. DoD/Sipa USA/Newscom

Key Takeaways

Kennedy accuses President Donald Trump’s Pentagon of “cherry-picking” outdated studies to reach its conclusion.

These qualifications exist for two reasons—to ensure individuals are able to perform at the level expected, and to prevent harm to higher risk individuals.

The Pentagon’s transgender policy is no different from its treatment of hundreds of other medically disqualifying conditions.

More than 100 lawmakers have signed a letter calling on Defense Secretary James Mattis to rescind his recently announced transgender policy for the military, as USA Today reports.

Mattis’ policy largely returns the military to the transgender policy in effect prior to 2016, when President Barack Obama enacted sweeping changes based on political considerations and a Rand Corp. study later found to have “mischaracterized” much of the data surrounding service by transgender individuals.

Although the lawmakers’ letter itself was not immediately released, accompanying statements by its author, Rep. Joe Kennedy III, D-Mass., give us enough to work with.

For starters, Kennedy accuses President Donald Trump’s Pentagon of “cherry-picking” outdated studies to reach its conclusion.

In fact, it was Obama and then-Defense Secretary Ashton Carter who cherry-picked flawed data from a dubious Rand study to support their 2016 change to the Defense Department’s transgender policy.

The Rand study subsequently was found by a board of experts to have “mischaracterized” other foreign militaries’ experiences with transgender service, “dismissed concerns” on its impact on unit cohesion, and most significantly, concluded the effects on military readiness would be “minimal” despite clear evidence to the contrary.

Kennedy goes on to tell Mattis that “there is a deep chasm between established medical research and the underlying analysis your department used to justify this policy.”

But in reality, unlike the shaky foundation for the change to transgender policy made by Obama, the study used by Mattis to guide his decisions relies on a broad base of authoritative and current medical sources maintained by both the military and civilian communities to support its conclusions.

The crux of the Pentagon’s new policy prohibits transgender individuals who suffer from gender dysphoria from serving in the military because these individuals have been found to “experience significant distress and impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.”

The Pentagon based this conclusion on its own vast amounts of medical data gathered from years of experience dealing with service members who had gender dysphoria. It also relied on publically available data documenting that transgender individuals with gender dysphoria attempt suicide at nearly nine times the U.S. average lifetime rate, and experience severe anxiety at eight times the average rate.

This level of mental anxiety and distress is fundamentally incompatible with arduous military service. And despite years of effort, as studies agree, a successful treatment for gender dysphoria is yet to be found.

Overlooked in Kennedy’s statements is that Mattis and the Pentagon went to great length to carve out an ability for transgender individuals to serve in the military if they don’t suffer from gender dysphoria. This was a logical and sound conclusion that helps the military fill its ranks.

Finally, Kennedy seeks to make a connection between the new transgender policy and “laws against racial integration, gender integration and service by gay and lesbians.”

The connection is offensive. The Pentagon’s transgender policy is no different from its treatment of hundreds of other medically disqualifying conditions such as bipolar disorder, asthma, or diabetes. These qualifications exist for two reasons—to ensure individuals are able to perform at the level expected, and to prevent harm to higher risk individuals.

Although the Pentagon can’t comment on the matter because the new policy is being contested in the courts, Americans deserve to know that the Defense Department has done a commendable job.

Officials have crafted a nuanced, medically supported transgender policy that finds the proper balance between allowing service by medically qualified volunteers and preventing from serving those who might endanger their unit or themselves.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal