GOP lawmakers rail against trans military service in committee

By : Chris Johnson of the Washington Blade, courtesy of the National Gay Media Association
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Amid questions about whether the Pentagon will delay allowing openly transgender people to enlist in the U.S. armed forces, GOP lawmakers led by Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) railed Wednesday night against transgender military service as detrimental to military readiness and limiting expenses to the U.S. government.

During the House Armed Services Committee markup of major defense policy legislation for fiscal year 2018, Hartzler proposed an amendment she said would block openly transgender service, but withdrew her measure after a brief diatribe before it could come to a vote.

“Why would we purposely recruit individuals to serve whom we know cannot serve?” Hartzler said. “Is it fair for us to change our accession standards for this one condition, knowing it will result in many being unable to serve their country when we deny military service to individuals with less complicated conditions like flat fleet, bunyons, asthma and sleep walking?”

Calling openly transgender military service “ill-conceived,” Hartzler questioned whether it was right to subject U.S. troops to the “disturbing distraction of very personal privacy issues involving sleeping and showering with individuals born of the opposite sex.”

One concern Hartlzer articulated was the cost of covering gender reassignment surgery, which she said would come to $1.35 billion over the next 10 years with only 30 percent of individuals electing to transition.

The policy change, Hartzler said, would also imperil readiness because troops dependent on transition-related care would be unable to deploy. The Missouri Republican said troops needing to refrigerate hormones would be unable to serve in the mountains of Afghanistan.

“Last year’s memorandum is costly in dollars, and it’s short on common sense,” Hartzler said. “It is imperative that our nation reverse this ill-advised policy and ensure our tax dollars are spent wisely, fairness is restored and we ensure our military personnel can succeed on the battlefield.”

Former Defense Secretary Ashton Carter under the Obama administration lifted the U.S. military’s ban on openly transgender service. That allowed transgender people already serving in the U.S. military to come out without fear of discharge, but left certain aspects of policy implementation at a later time.

Permitting openly transgender people to enlist into the armed forces was to set to begin July 1, 2017. However, military service chiefs are seeking a six-month delay with that target date approaching in what could be a sign the military will continue to kick the can down the road to implement the change. A DOD spokesperson said as of Thursday no final decision on the request was made.

Hartzler said she’d withdraw her proposed amendment to the FY-18 defense authorization bill, but if the Pentagon doesn’t internally reverse the policy “future action must be taken by us, the guardians of national defense.”

Had the measure passed, it would have been similar to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law barring openly gay military service, which was passed by Congress as part of the defense authorization bill in 1993 before it was repealed in 2010.

The Missouri Republican said the time for action would be when the $697 billion defense policy measure reaches the House floor, which could happen soon in the aftermath of the House passing the bill without her amendment by a 60-1 vote.

Echoing Hartzler in dismay over openly transgender service was Rep. Steve Russell (R-Okla.), who last year sought to pass an amendment that would have undermined former President Obama’s executive order against anti-LGBT workplace discrimination.

Reading Army guidance on transgender service for commanding officers, Russell narrated a story about a transgender male soldier seeking to become pregnant. Russell enunciated the “his” gender pronoun as he read the story in disbelief over the possible situation.

“When we have a coerced policy that diverts leaders and commanders from combat readiness and cohesion to accommodate the impossible moral construct of pregnant men, and how this impossibility will make a more capable and ready force, I suggest Mr. Chairman, that we have lost our way as a nation,” Russell said.

Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) said Defense Secretary James Mattis should respond to committee questions about shared housing with transgender troops and their ability to deploy.

“We should not go forward with the previous administration’s policy until we get to answers to issues like housing, medical costs and limitations on deployment,” Lamborn said.

Defending transgender military service was Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.), who urged colleagues to keep in mind the year-long review process before Carter lifted the trans military ban.

“That process was rigorous, it included leadership of the services, medical and personnel experts across DOD, transgender service members, outside medical experts, advocacy groups and the RAND Corp.,” Tsongas said. “Analysis by the DOD working group and the RAND Corp. concluded that there would be minimal readiness impacts from allowing transgender service members to serve openly.”

Rep. Donald Meachin (D-Va.), who’s black, said reservations about transgender troops recall reservations about racial integration in the armed forces under the Truman administration.

“I can imagine — not these individuals to my right, not my colleagues to my right — but a Congress 70 or 80 years ago that said that a certain group of people weren’t smart enough to fly airplanes, that they’d run at the first sign of battle and that African-Americans could not serve in the United States armed forces,” Meachin said. “Well, African-Americans proved them wrong. The unit adapted and I suggest the unit adapt to transgender individuals as well.”

Responding to Hartzler’s concern about transgender troops needing hormone therapy, Meachin said troops on testosterone wouldn’t refrigerate it, but rely on gel while on deployment as required by U.S. Central Command.

But Hartzler refuted the notion racial integration in the armed forces was comparable to allowing openly transgender people to serve.

“There’s a huge difference between what was the change in policy several years ago and a person with this medical condition, and it is a medical condition that does require additional expenses, and this policy was flawed from Day One,” Hartzler said.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), who’s seeking to challenge Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) next year for his Senate seat, said transgender troops “are serving with distinction” already in the armed forces.

“Every time we’ve added a new group of Americans beyond white males who originally served the sky was feared to be falling,” O’Rourke said. “And in each case we learned that everybody in the country when treated with dignity and respect, and given the chance to serve, does us all proud.”

The numbers Hartzler cited, O’Rourke said, are “at great divergence and overblown from what we have studied and has already been determined.”

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), who also opposed efforts to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” years ago, asserted he’d support the amendment against transgender military service if it wasn’t withdrawn.

“The military is not the job corps, the military is not some other group that you can serve and everybody can serve, the military is there to kill people and execute the will of our government,” Hunter said. “This doesn’t make it more effective, it doesn’t make it more efficient, it doesn’t make it more deadly. What it does is distract everybody.”

Hunter, a field artillery officer in Marine Corps during the Iraq war, said he “couldn’t imagine” having to share housing or showers with a transgender service member who didn’t have gender reassignment surgery and “kept the girl stuff, and now she’s with a bunch of guys of vice-versa.”

“This is just one of the most ridiculous things that our prior commander-in-chief has done in his storied eight years of doing lots of ridiculous things,” Hunter said.

It’s unknown what the results would have been were the amendment put to a vote. House Armed Services Committee Chair Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said during the discussion he received a lot of requests to speak and didn’t want to cut off debate, but noted the amendment was withdrawn and urged lawmakers to “keep perspective in mind.”

David Stacy, the Human Rights Camopaign’s director of government affairs, condemned Hartzler’s effort to block transgender service as “simply disgraceful.“

“If adopted, this amendment would harm military readiness and restrict the armed services’ ability to recruit the best and brightest,” Stacy said. “Thousands of transgender people are currently serving effectively and honorably in our armed forces. We’ve lived through the negative consequences of ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ and we’re glad that the House Armed Services Committee has decided to avoid attacks on LGBTQ service members in the NDAA.”

Matt Thorn, executive director of the LGBT military group OutServe-SLDN, also said concerns Republican lawmakers raised were unfounded.

“Transgender service members have been serving since October, openly and authentically, with no negative impact on readiness,” Thorn said. “When DOD studied lifting the ban, they determined the costs associated with open transgender service would be negligible relative to its 600-plus billion dollar budget. We were pleased to see that the amendment withdrawn.”

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