On Tuesday evening, USA Today published a surprising report alleging that Secretary of Defense James Mattis had frozen President Donald Trump’s ban on transgender troops. Mattis, the report explained, had convened a panel of experts to study transgender service and make recommendations next year. His “move,” the article concluded, “buys time for the Pentagon” to determine the fate of trans troops who are currently serving.
This framing is an extreme mischaracterization of the facts. Mattis did not “freeze” the trans ban, and he is not “buy[ing] time” in some potentially insubordinate effort to buck Trump. In reality, the secretary is doing exactly what Trump directed him to do in a recent memo.
In his Tuesday announcement, Mattis declared that he will do precisely what the memo requires of him. He is not suspending the ban or disobeying Trump, but simply following orders. Moreover, as Nathaniel Frank explained in Slate, the memo does not give Mattis real discretion in executing the ban. He can, theoretically, provide a recommendation that Trump scrap it. But barring a reversal by the president, Mattis lacks any real ability to protect trans troops.
The strategy laid out in Friday’s memo is designed to lend legitimacy to an arbitrary and capricious policy that is motivated solely by politics. In fact, the Pentagon already commissioned a study which concluded that open transgender service will have no negative effects on the military while costing very little. Mattis’ new “study,” by contrast, will almost certainly provide some pseudofactual cover for the trans ban.
Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center of Lesbian Rights—which filed a lawsuit to block the policy—told me that USA Today’s “inaccurate reporting” is “playing into a patently bogus strategy to make it appear that there is going to be some new ‘study’ that will legitimize what is already a forgone conclusion: the discriminatory banning of military service by transgender people, based on a characteristic that has no bearing on their fitness to serve.” The Friday memo, Minter noted, “is perfectly clear: Trump has ordered the military to ban transgender people from serving. That ban will go into effect on March 23.” Read more via Slate