Protest erupts against President Trump's transgender military ban
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US President Donald Trump seems to be heading for another clash with the Pentagon over his renewed order banning transgender individuals from serving in the military.
When Trump first announced the ban last month, the reversal of policy initiated under President Obama in 2016 caught military chiefs by surprise. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford led the pushback. He appeared to rebuke the president for making decrees by Twitter, and said there would be no change on Pentagon policy admitting transgenders into the armed forces until a formal order was received.
This week, the White House doubled down by issuing a memo to the Pentagon reiterating Trump's ruling that no transgender individuals are to be allowed to serve in the military. He appeared to soften his order somewhat by giving the Defense Secretary, James Mattis, the discretion on what to do about transgenders who are already in the forces.
It is not clear at this stage if the Pentagon will seek to overturn Trump's order. The ban has sparked protests from LGBT groups, which has resonated with others who have denounced President Trump for appearing to incite racial tensions over his ambiguous response to white supremacist violence. This has been spurred most recently by Trump's pardoning of Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, who had been convicted of racial profiling.
Trump's position on the transgender issue cites two reasons for the ban. To reduce the cost to federal government of individual service members who opt for sexual reassignment surgery. The president also claims that transgenders in the military are disruptive of unit cohesion and the overall fighting ability of forces.
Why Trump should choose to pick up this issue is not clear. The numbers do not seem to make sense: the Pentagon does not give out figures, but according to a Rand Corp study the number of transgender people in the US military is around 1,300. Out of a total of 1.3 million US forces that amounts to a tiny minority of 0.1 percent. Also according to Rand, the estimated cost to federal government for transgender surgery is minuscule compared with the total Pentagon health care budget, some $8 million out of a total $49 billion, or about 0.01 percent. All this could be a sop to Trump's voter base, who tend to be socially conservative.
At a time when Trump is under fire for sympathies allegedly lying with the racist and bigoted, it seems rather strange that he should give opponents another cause for condemnation, namely banning transgenders in the military, especially since the numbers show the matter to be a very marginal one.