U.S. President Donald Trump announced on Twitter Wednesday that he would never “accept or allow” transgender people to serve in the military.
“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,” he wrote.
This is a different conclusion than the Obama administration came to in 2016. At that time, Defence Secretary Ash Carter said that “Americans who want to serve and can meet our standards should be afforded the opportunity to compete to do so.”
The Obama plan had been to allow transgender people to enlist after they had spent 18 months in their identified gender.
Before that announcement, the U.S. military did extensive research on the costs and implications of allowing transgender people to serve, according to Alan Okros, a professor at the Canadian Forces College who has researched accommodating LGBTQ individuals in the military.
“There’s reliable, scientific research that has been conducted for the U.S. military to ensure that there is good, informed policy decisions,” he said.
One of these studies, conducted by the RAND Corporation, concluded that the impact of transgender personnel in terms of health care costs or military readiness was “likely to be small.”
Researchers estimated that there were between 1,320 and 6,630 transgender individuals serving in the military, out of 1.3 million service members. Additional health care costs for transgender people would increase the military’s health care bill by approximately 0.13 per cent, or a maximum of $8.1 million.
To put that in perspective, the military annually spends five times that amount – $41.6 million – on Viagra, according to a report in the Washington Post.
Not everyone would seek extra health-care treatment, they said.
“For some people the extent of medical treatment can be fairly minimal,” said Okros. In the middle range, some people might seek hormone therapy.
“There are a significant number of people in uniform who go through hormone therapy for a range of medical conditions,” he said. “It’s a very regular medical procedure. It’s not disruptive. It doesn’t cost huge amounts of money.”
At the highest end, a handful of people might seek gender transition-related surgeries – about 25 to 130 people per year, RAND estimated.
These surgeries don’t cost all that much compared to other surgeries that military members might undergo, said Okros. “The key thing about these is, these are typically one-time surgical procedures. Once the surgical procedure is over, there’s no ongoing medical condition that requires treatment or followup.”
Eighteen other countries, including Canada, allow transgender people to serve in the military, he said. And according to research he’s done on the Canadian Forces, there are no additional costs or disruption that comes from allowing them in.
“In the Canadian context, it’s not been a major issue at all,” he said. “It’s no big deal.”
Allowing people to be open about their identities certainly helped those individuals though, he thinks. He sees the decision as very unfortunate for transgender people who are currently serving in the U.S. military who were expecting their gender identities to be supported.
“Why would you go out of your way to be discriminatory against individuals when there’s no grounds for it? The medical costs are not an issue. The social disruption is not an issue.”
“At the end of the day, particularly in the military, the key thing that people in the military want is, ‘Judge me on one thing only: can I do the job?’”
— With files from Reuters