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Defense Secretary Mattis says current transgender troops can re-enlist, for now

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U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis says transgender troops can stay for now.
Photo by Andrew Harrer-Pool/Getty Images

Transgender troops currently serving in the military will be allowed to re-enlist, the Pentagon said in a memo released to top military officials Friday, according to multiple news reports.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the department will continue to debate how to implement President Donald Trump’s call to ban transgender Americans from serving in the military, possibly seeking outside experts for guidance. But for now, those already serving will be allowed to re-enlist.

In August, Trump formally signed a memo directing the secretaries of defense and homeland security to put forward a plan to implement the ban by February 21, 2018. The order gave Mattis the authority to determine if transgender service members currently serving in the military would be allowed to stay.

This newly released interim guidance will remain in effect until the Defense department puts forward its action plan in February.

As Vox’s Alex Ward reported, Trump’s memo also ordered the Pentagon to stop paying for any transgender-related medical treatments, including gender-affirming surgeries, even for those currently serving, “except to the extent necessary to protect the health of an individual who has already begun a course of treatment to reassign his or her sex.”

According to the Associated Press, Mattis’s memo made clear that “transgender individuals can continue to serve in the military and continue to receive any required medical care.”

Trump’s initial call for a ban on trans people in the military, which was made on Twitter in July, hasn’t been popular. Notably, it caught Washington, DC — and officials at the Pentagon — by surprise, striking ire with both Democratic and Republican members of Congress.

This week Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, joined Democrat Sens. Jack Reed (RI) and Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) as well as Republican Sen. Susan Collins (ME) in introducing new legislation to stop the Defense Department from following through with Trump’s trans military ban directive.

The bill is unlikely to garner support among conservative Republicans in the House, where news reports indicate Trump’s idea to tweet out the trans military ban originated, but it’s a strong sign that banning transgender service members isn’t a wedge issue for the Republican Party, or in the military community.