President Donald Trump on Wednesday morning banned transgender people from serving in the military, citing “the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”
While Trump spoke in the hypothetical — tweeting about what “would” happen if trans people were included in the military — he failed to acknowledge the trans men and women who already serve.
How many transgender people serve in the U.S. military?
In June 2016, then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced a lift on the long-time ban on trans people in the military. While there is no exact data on the number of trans people currently serving in the armed forces, trans people made up between between 1,320 and 6,630 out of a total 1.3 million servicemen and servicewomen in the active military as of 2016.
“Our mission is to defend this country, and we don’t want barriers unrelated to a person’s qualification to serve preventing us from recruiting or retaining the soldier, sailor, airman or Marine who can best accomplish the mission,” Carter said at the time. “We have to have access to 100% of America’s population for our all-volunteer force to be able to recruit from among them the most highly qualified — and to retain them.”
In October 2016, the Pentagon doubled down on its commitment to trans troops by putting into effect a policy that would pay for gender-affirming treatment and surgery for trans servicemen and servicewomen.
Trump mentioned these “medical costs” in his Wednesday tweets; however, experts have said in the past that these costs are almost negligible considering how few trans troops actually seek out gender-affirming treatments.
“Only a small portion of service members would likely seek gender transition-related medical treatments that would affect their deployability or health care costs,” Agnes Gereben Schaefer, a senior political scientist at RAND, a California think tank, told the LA Times in June 2016.
While Trump said trans people in the military are a “disruption,” Carter’s announcement in 2016 told a different story.
“They’ve deployed all over the world, serving on aircraft, submarines, forward operating bases and right here in the Pentagon,” he said at the time of the repeal. “One service member I had met with described how some people had urged him to leave the military, because of the challenges he was facing with our policies, and he said he just wouldn’t quit. He was too committed to the mission, and this is where he wanted to be.”