An openly transgender recruit has — for the first time — successfully signed a contract with the US military.
The Pentagon confirmed this week that the recruit passed the physical and medical exams and signed the contract. “The Department of Defense confirms that as of February 23, 2018, there is one transgender individual under contract for service in the US Military,” Department of Defense spokesperson Dave Eastburn told CNN.
The military has not confirmed who the recruit is or the branch the recruit signed up for. The recruit has also not yet started basic training, according to CNN.
There are already trans people in the military — by some counts, as many as 15,500. But many are not out, and those who are came out after enlisting.
The development comes despite President Donald Trump’s attempts to keep trans people out of the military. Last year, Trump said that he would reinstate a ban on openly trans people serving in the military — moving to undo previous work by President Barack Obama’s administration to overturn the old ban. But Trump’s ban has been held up by courts, forcing the military to allow openly trans recruits to join starting this year.
Trump argued in a series of tweets in July, “Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming … victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”
Then in August, the White House released the actual policy behind those tweets. According to the administration, Trump would effectively return the military to the pre-2016 era in which trans troops could not serve openly. The policy also banned the military from paying for gender-affirming surgery, with some exceptions to “protect the health” of someone who had already begun transitioning.
But the guidance also allowed the secretary of defense, after consulting with the secretary of homeland security, some wiggle room to decide what to do with already serving trans service members. It also let them advise the president on reversing the ban. For now, an interim guidance by the secretary of defense allows the Pentagon to pay for trans service members’ procedures through a waiver — a process that has let at least one trans service member go through a gender-affirming surgery.
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis on Friday made his recommendation on whether to allow trans people in the military, but what his recommendation is or whether Trump will follow it has not been released to the public.
The research, based on the experiences of other countries, shows that the costs associated with trans service members are actually very small. A 2016 review of the evidence by the RAND Corporation found that by allowing trans-inclusive medical care, “active-component health care costs would increase by between $2.4 million and $8.4 million annually, representing a 0.04 to 0.13 percent increase in active-component health care expenditures” — a very small amount.
This small cost may not mean much in budget terms, but it could mean a lot to trans soldiers. As the American Medical Association and American Psychiatric Association point out, transitioning helps reduce gender dysphoria — a state of emotional distress caused by how someone’s body or the gender they were assigned at birth conflicts with their gender identity. Untreated gender dysphoria, which not all trans people experience in the same way, can lead to anxiety, depression, and even suicide, so treating it could mean fewer mental health issues for trans people serving in the military.
Trump’s ban, with its prohibition on trans-inclusive medical services, was supposed to take effect in March. But as the ban is now held up in courts, it looks increasingly likely that it might not take effect at all — and now openly trans people are signing up to serve.
For more on Trump’s ban on trans troops, read Vox’s explainer.