Mattis asks general, deputy defense secretary to help determine future of transgender troops

Washington Post

The Pentagon's No. 2 general and new deputy defense secretary will take a leading role as the Defense Department scrutinizes whether to allow transgender service members to stay in the military, according to a new Pentagon memo.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis selected Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan to make evidence-based recommendations on the way forward, according to the memo released Monday.

This memo follows similar ones — released by the White House on Aug. 25 and the Pentagon on Aug. 28 — giving Mattis until Feb. 21 to establish a plan for carrying out President Donald Trump's controversial ban on transgender personnel.

The president's surprise announcement via Twitter came July 26, saying he would not allow "transgender individuals to serve in any capacity." A day later, the Pentagon's top officer, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, indicated the military will comply with Trump's directive, but not before a new policy is finalized.

The Obama administration repealed a longtime ban on transgender military service in July 2016, saying there should be no barriers for qualified people who wish to serve. Trump and other critics have questioned whether such personnel are disruptive and cost money that should be spent elsewhere.

Mattis's new memo — labeled "Military Service by Transgender Individuals — Interim Guidance" — reiterates that the Defense Department will not take any adverse action against transgender service members this year. Those diagnosed with gender dysphoria will be provided with treatment, and policies put in place by the Obama administration will remain in effect for the time being.

Moreover, transgender troops who are "otherwise qualified" also may to reenlist as the Pentagon sorts through its next policy, Mattis wrote.

"First and foremost," the memo says, "we will continue to treat every Service member with dignity and respect."

The Pentagon will reestablish a "Central Coordination Cell" in the office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness. That post is being filled on a temporary, acting basis by Anthony Kurta, whom Trump has nominated to serve as the deputy undersecretary in the office. Trump's nominee to head the office, Robert Wilkie, has not yet been confirmed by the Senate.

In August, Mattis said the Defense Department's soon-to-be arriving political appointees would play an important role in crafting its new transgender policy.

Shanahan was confirmed as the Pentagon's deputy defense secretary in July. He previously spent more than three decades with Boeing, most recently as its senior vice president for supply chain and operations.

Selva has been the Pentagon's vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff since July 2015, and faced a second Senate confirmation hearing in July at which he was asked to address how the Pentagon is reviewing its transgender policy, and whether there would be any unintended consequences from Mattis's prior decision to delay until 2018 the acceptance of transgender military recruits.

The general told lawmakers that he was an "advocate of every qualified person who can meet the physical standards to serve in our uniformed services to be able to do so," and that the decision to delay new accessions was focused on a disagreement about how mental health care and hormone therapy would help solve medical issues associated with gender dysphoria.

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