It’s not news that Donald Trump lies with impunity or that his dissembling infects those around him with the same depravity. Some falsities are easy to spot and comparatively benign. But others are disguised as earnest policy positions and are quietly wreaking havoc with the lives of countless people. The latest example of such insidious mendacity is the administration’s policy on transgender military service. And whatever one’s feelings about trans equality, alarm bells should ring about the harms wrought to the integrity of military policy when a reckless commander-in-chief bases the rules for our fighting force on deceptive and discredited assertions, careening military personnel policy from one pole to the other by the month.
That’s what has happening with Trump’s attempt to outwit court orders that have rightly blocked his impetuous ban on service by transgender Americans, a rule that even senior military officials clearly oppose. Last week, the Justice Department asked a federal court in Washington, D.C. for an emergency stay of its order to let transgender people enter the military starting January 1. And in an obligatory effort to support the administration’s motion, the Pentagon told the court that 23,000 medical examiners and recruiters would have to undergo onerous training, something it claimed would “place extraordinary burdens on our armed forces and may harm military readiness.”
But according to a policy analysis released today by a panel of former military Surgeons General, this assertion is totally false. The Pentagon told the court that implementing trans-inclusive policy “necessitates preparation, training, and communication to ensure those responsible for application of the accession standards are thoroughly versed in the policy.” The court filing claims that thousands of recruiters and medical evaluators “dispersed across the United States” require “a working knowledge or in-depth medical understanding of the standards and identity validation requirements associated with processing an applicant under new requirements.”
The Surgeons General, however, write that “the administration’s claims are suspicious because training recruiters and medical evaluators to process applications from transgender candidates is neither complicated nor time-consuming.” Their report makes clear that the Pentagon is engaged in an act of deception by wildly exaggerating what’s necessary to implement inclusive service and that what’s actually necessary has either already been done or would take, at most, a day to complete—far less time, in other words, than what’s been wasted fighting with the courts seeking more time to stave off trans service.
The policy analysis cites an emeritus professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, one of the nation’s top experts on military personnel policy, as saying that the necessary training could be accomplished by sending a one-page instruction to all recruiting stations. Teaching medical evaluators to process applications of transgender people, says the report, “requires less than one day of training.”
The reason training is so simple is that existing personnel and medical regulations already contain the necessary guidance to process transgender applicants. The suggestion that thousands of recruiters and other personnel need “a working knowledge or in-depth medical understanding” of transgender issues in order to resolve “any gender identity conflict between an applicant’s government identification documents and the gender in which they present themselves” is flat-out wrong. It appears to be either a politically motivated lie or a symptom of confusion, fear, and ignorance about transgender people, some of it now being magnified by the Trump administration as fodder to resist equal treatment
Recruiters don’t need to be doctors with knowledge of the nuances of transition-related health care any more than they need to know how to treat cancer. Their job is to assist people in filling out forms and to verify documentation, not to play medical expert. “There is no gender identity conflict for recruiters to resolve,” explains the Surgeon Generals’ report, because transgender applicants will be processed according to the gender indicated on the government document they must present to confirm their identity. How applicants “present themselves” is totally irrelevant to recruiters, as “it is not the recruiter’s job to decide whether the applicant acts or looks sufficiently like a man or a woman, and it is not the recruiter's job to verify that the applicant has an appropriate gender presentation.”
Even where there are actions recruiters might have to take to help process transgender applicants, such as assisting individuals in filling out medical reports that include a history of gender dysphoria, the policy analysis explains that this task doesn’t require any additional training, but would be handled in exactly the same way as it would be for anyone else.
The Pentagon, of course, has already had eighteen months to prepare for this policy change and, according to former senior officials, it has already completed nearly all the necessary training. Today’s report cites an army recruiter as verifying that recruiters have already been trained on transgender inclusion. “Last year, recruiters were briefed on transgender persons serving in the military, and my entire recruiting battalion received training,” he told the authors. He said that processing transgender applicants “is actually quite simple for us” and that the only remaining task for the Pentagon to do is “to make changes to some forms. Everything with processing applicants is self-explanatory.”
The Trump White House is seeking to literally unlearn institutional knowledge about LGBTQ military service that has been carefully applied to the military personnel arena over the past two years—and for many more years before that studying and implementing inclusive policy for gays and lesbians. The administration is attempting to erase numerous working groups and extensive studies by the military itself of the rationale for, and implementation of, inclusive policy; hours of training and education that have already occurred force-wide around equal treatment; and the review and preparation of hundreds of pages of memos, guidance and instructions for how to create military policy based on a single standard that treats everyone equally and holds all to the same expectations. The administration acts like all of this was meaningless, as if what’s needed to treat service members equally is an unending amount of administrative red tape that can, by definition, never be completed.
The result is a whip-sawing of military personnel policy that does grave harm and creates major uncertainty for patriotic Americans who want nothing more than to serve their country. But an equally alarming casualty is that the integrity of military decision-making itself—an area many had hoped would remain resistant to the president’s corrosive effect on truth—is now succumbing to the rot. At a time when administration officials have reportedly advised some government employees to avoid using terms including “transgender” and “evidence-based” in official documents, the commander-in-chief is effectively forcing the military to lie in federal court about that very topic. At stake is not only the fate of transgender service members and military readiness, but the credibility of the military, and indeed the very future of policy based on facts instead of fiction.