Politics & Policy

Biden’s ‘Transgender Military Ban’ Repeal Is a PR Stunt

U.S. Military Academy cadets march in formation during tactical and physical training activities as part of Cadet Summer Training at West Point, New York, August 7, 2020. (Mike Segar/Reuters)
Requiring the military to make special accommodations for transgenderism is about identity politics, not equality. 

Joe Biden is overcompensating again. On Monday, he repealed Trump’s so-called transgender military ban, scoring points with LGBT activists. Before we get into that, how about a quick pop quiz?

  1. Under whose leadership did the Department of Defense base its “report and recommendations on military service by transgender persons” on the “bedrock principle” that “any eligible individual who can meet the high standards for military service without special accommodations should be permitted to serve,” adding that “this is no less true for transgender persons than for any other eligible individual”?

Answer: Secretary Jim Mattis, under President Trump.

  1. Who said in 1973, when asked whether homosexuals could work in the federal government, “my gut reaction is that they are security risks,” then in the 1990s backed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” legislation which prohibited military service members from being openly gay, then in the 2000s opposed the expansion of marriage beyond one-man-one-woman until an inexplicable U-turn on all things LGBT around 2012?

Answer: Joseph Robinette Biden Jr., then-U.S. senator and former vice president.

Yet for some reason, the assumption today seems to be that the outgoing administration’s transgender military policy is just another example of its legacy of bigotry. The truth is rather less straightforward. Secretary Mattis did not “ban” transgender people from serving in the military, but rather reviewed and ultimately rejected the Obama administration’s 2016 policy which sought to reverse decades-long protocol in disqualifying those requiring “special accommodations.”

In 2012, the Obama administration had explicitly banned candidates with “current or history of psychosexual conditions, including but not limited to transsexualism, exhibitionism, transvestism, voyeurism and other paraphilias.” This was consistent with the categorization of “gender identity disorder” as a mental-health disorder in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). But in 2015 — after the publication of the most recent edition DSM-V in 2013, and the growing popularity of identity politics — Ash Carter, as Secretary of Defense, set about changing this.

However, despite the change of diagnostic definition from “gender identity disorder” (DSM-IV) to “gender dysphoria” (DSM-V), the “condition” (no longer a “disorder”) was still associated with “clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning.” Carter’s 2016 policy allowing those with gender dysphoria to serve did not, according to Mattis’s report and recommendations, “examine the potential impact on unit readiness, perceptions of fairness and equity, personnel safety, and reasonable expectations of privacy at the unit and sub-unit levels, all of which are critical to unit cohesion.” Nor did it   

meaningfully address the significant mental health problems that accompany gender dysphoria — from high rates of comorbidities and psychiatrist hospitalizations to high rates of suicide ideation and suicidality — and the scope of the scientific uncertainty regarding whether gender transition treatment fully remedies those problems.

As it happens, there is an extraordinarily comprehensive list of mental and physical conditions which can disqualify a person from military service. You might have asthma, a deformed toe, be a bit deaf, overweight, underweight, too tall, or too short. You might have bipolar disorder or have recently received treatment for depression. If you’re a man, you might have an “unexplained absence of a testicle.” If you’re a woman, you might suffer from endometriosis (i.e., severe period pains). None of these disqualifications ought to be taken personally. In fact, the vast majority of Americans from ages 17 to 24 — some 71 percent — are ineligible to join the military without a waiver for mental, medical, or behavioral reasons.

The new transgender military policy Biden proposes also raises some of the same issues raised in the transgender sports debate. Namely, should biological males who identify as females be allowed to meet the female physical fitness and body-fat standards? And in sex-specific training and athletic competitions, should males be allowed to compete against females? Given that rates of genital surgery are low, should transgender personnel be permitted to shower and bunk with the opposite sex, or does that compromise the safety of women and unit cohesion?

It was considering these and other issues that prompted Mattis to propose the compromise that “transgender persons without a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria, who are otherwise qualified for service, may serve, like all other service members, in their biological sex.” Yet those requiring transition or who have undergone transition were to be disqualified. Exceptions were made for existing service members and those retained at the onset of gender dysphoria, “provided that they are willing and able to adhere to all standards associated with their biological sex.”

The recommendations went to great lengths to emphasize that “nothing in this policy should be viewed as reflecting poorly on transgender persons who suffer from gender dysphoria, or have had a history of gender dysphoria, and are accordingly disqualified from service,” since “transgender persons with gender dysphoria are no less valued members of our Nation than all other categories of persons who are disqualified from military service.”

Another person who has made this point is James Shupe, who spoke with National Review two years ago about his experience as a veteran who had also suffered from gender dysphoria. Shupe served 17 years in the military before identifying as transgender. In 2013, Shupe legally registered as female, later penning an op-ed for the New York Times as a trans woman, then in 2016 became the first “non-binary” person in the United States. Shupe reverted to his birth sex in 2019 and has been highly critical of much transgender activism in worsening the lives of those struggling with gender issues.

Not that it matters to Biden. Requiring the military to make special accommodations for transgenderism is about identity politics point scoring, not equality.

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