House Democrats almost overturned Trump’s trans military ban. But the GOP stopped them.

A soldier has a rainbow flag sticker covering their mouth.
Photo: Shutterstock

Five major national LGBTQ organizations and other groups are “profoundly discouraged” by a bipartisan National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) — a major $738 billion 2020 military funding bill — for its exclusion of language overturning Donald Trump’s transgender military ban. The NDAA is expected to pass with bipartisan support.

The final bill does have language encouraging the military to grant waivers allowing trans soldiers to enlist despite Trump’s ban and a provision helping LGBTQ soldiers kicked out under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) to fight for “honorable” discharges on their official records, facilitating their access to federal veteran benefits.

Related: Rhode Island & New York restore military benefits to LGBTQ veterans

The Democratic-led House had approved an NDAA amendment introduced by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) that would’ve ended Trump’s trans ban and, for the first time ever, prohibited anti-LGBTQ and other discrimination in the military.

But in a public statement, the National Center for Transgender Equality, the Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders joined the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Modern Military Association of America to say that Republicans successfully gutted that language from the final NDAA.

“Although House and Senate Democratic leaders fought to retain this provision to end the ban,” the statement reads, “the White House, House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-TX), Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-OK), and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) fought vigorously to remove it, and ultimately prevailed.”

The groups call it “unconscionable” that thousands of honorably serving transgender service members will continue to have their lives and families destabilized by Trump’s biased ban which is opposed by a majority of American citizens “military experts, and elected officials across the political spectrum.”

Despite this, the NDAA has a provision clarifying that LGBTQ service members who were dismissed under DADT and who were denied an “honorable” upgrade to their discharge papers can “seek an appeal under current law or defense policy.” The NDAA also encourages the military to let trans people enlist by granting them exception waivers.

But so far, no such waivers have ever yet been granted, raising doubts as to whether they’ll ever be issued, even with this new NDAA’s encouragement.

When Trump issued his July 2017 ban via Twitter, he said it was because of “the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.” His announcement came a year after reports that the Pentagon had lifted the ban on transgender service members.

Trans healthcare would’ve costed the military between $2.4 million and $8.4 million annually — the military currently spends $41.6 million annually on the erectile dysfunction medication Viagra and Trump’s trips to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida cost taxpayers “an estimated $21.6 million during the first 80 days of his presidency.”

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