Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has elected to delay President Trump's proposed ban on transgender Americans serving in the armed forces pending the results of a study, according to a news release issued Tuesday night by the secretary's office.
"Our focus must always be on what is best for the military's combat effectiveness leading to victory on the battlefield," Mattis said. "To that end, I will establish a panel of experts serving within the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security to provide advice and recommendations on the implementation of the president's direction. … In the interim, current policy with respect to currently serving members will remain in place."
Trump abruptly announced his intention to ban transgender service members via Twitter Aug. 2 and issued an official directive Aug. 25, banning new enlistees and instructing Mattis and other military leaders to determine whether transgender individuals already in the armed forces should be allowed to remain.
The ban would reverse an Obama-era policy that allowed openly transgender Americans to both serve and receive medical treatment related to their transitions.
Trump, faced with accusations that this was discriminatory, argued that the Obama administration had not studied whether the change would "hinder military effectiveness and lethality, disrupt unit cohesion, or tax military resources."
Mattis' panel of experts will perform that research before it reaches a decision, according to Tuesday's news release.
A previous study commissioned by the Defense Department found that, despite Trump's claim that allowing transgender service members would create a burden of "tremendous medical costs," allowing them in the armed forces would represent a military spending increase of just .13 percent.
Like the Trump administration's travel ban on new arrivals from several primarily Muslim countries, its transgender ban also faces legal challenges that could potentially nullify any decision Mattis and other military leaders make.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit Monday challenging the ban, and Democratic congress members -- some of them military veterans, like Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth -- have pleaded with the administration to reverse its decision.
When I was bleeding to death in my Black Hawk, I didn’t care if the troops saving me were gay, straight, transgender, black, white or brown pic.twitter.com/FTzjHpZuuH
— Tammy Duckworth (@SenDuckworth) August 24, 2017