Defense Secretary Jim Mattis left the door open Monday to some transgender service members continuing to serve in the U.S. military, three weeks after President Donald Trump said that they would not be allowed to do so “in any capacity.”
Mattis, speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, said that he and his staff are still studying the issue, including how having transgender service members affects other members of their units. The Pentagon chief, asked whether transgender people currently in the military will be forced out of their service, pointed to a statement that Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, issued a day after Trump’s announcement last month. Dunford said that openly transgender people will be allowed to continue to serve until their is guidance from the president on how to proceed.
“The chairman immediately went out and said immediately, ‘Everyone stand fast until we get the direction,’” Mattis said. “I understand that this is probably more about your suspicion about what could be coming, but the fact is, we have received no direction that would indicate any harm to anybody right now.”
Mattis declined to say whether current transgender service members who outed themselves will be allowed to, at minimum, complete their military contracts. He also questioned the numbers of a study by the Rand Corp. that was commissioned by the Pentagon and cited by the Obama administration as it lifted a ban on transgender service in July 2016. The study found that there was little impact to military operations on allowing transgender troops, and that there were in fact already between 2,500 and 7,000 transgender people among the 1.3 million on active duty.
“I’m going to wait, again, until I get the direction from the White House, and then we will study it and come up with what the policy should be,” the secretary said. “But I’m not willing to sign up for the [Rand Corp.] numbers you just used, and I’m not willing to sign up for the concern any of them have, considering what the chairman said. And I’m not willing to prejudge what the study will now bring out.”
The Rand study has been derided by opponents to transgender military service as fodder that allowed then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter to introduce more social engineering to the military because it found that there would be little impact on U.S. military operations. Officials with Rand, asked to comment Monday night, said they were consulting with each other.
Trump, in a series of three tweets July 26, said he would ban all transgender military service. He doubled down on that idea last week, saying he did the military a “great favor” by doing so.
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The Obama administration lifted its ban on transgender military service in July 2016, and set a one-year deadline at the time to determine a policy for bringing in transgender people who want to serve. But on the eve of that deadline, Mattis said he wanted the Pentagon to have another six months to study the issue, citing a need to determine how allowing transgender service will affect “the readiness and lethality of the force.”
Mattis said Monday that there was another factor in the decision, as well: The lack of political appointees he had at the time overseeing personnel issues at the Pentagon. He said he wanted to “get them in to be able to answer those questions” that arose among senior military officials.
The secretary declined to answer why Trump chose to disclose the decision on Twitter, and without specific policy in place.
“You all elected - the American people elected - the commander in chief,” Mattis said of Trump. “They didn’t elect me. So, the commander in chief in our country, in our system of government, is elected by the people, and he has that authority and responsibility.”