The US House of Representatives could vote today (13 July) on an amendment that would bar transgender people serving in the military from receiving medical care related to gender transitioning.
On Wednesday night, the House Rules Committee approved the amendment to the 2018 national defense authorization bill. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, a Republican from Missouri, introduced that amendment.
If approved, medical care such as hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery would be barred. However, psychiatric treatment for transgender military personnel would still be allowed.
An estimated 6,630 transgender people are actively serving in the military according to a RAND Corporation study commissioned by the Pentagon.
However, the Williams Institute, an LGBTI think tank at the University of California, Los Angeles law school, estimates the real number to be around 15,000.
The full text of the amendment reads, ‘Funds available to the Department of Defense may not be used to provide medical treatment (other than mental health treatment) related to gender transition to a person entitled to medical care under chapter 55 of title 10, United States Code.’
Reaction from LGBTI groups was swift.
‘This vile amendment is a vicious attack on service members who are sacrificing so much and putting their lives on the line for our country,’ said Ashley Broadway-Mack, president of the American Military Partner Association. ‘This legislative assault on military families absolutely must be stopped. We urge members of Congress to reject this cruel proposal.’
OutServe-SLDN (Servicemembers Legal Defense Network), a LGBTI military personnel advocacy group that was founded in 1993 when Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was being introduced, also condemned the bill.
‘We unequivocally condemn Hartzler’s attempt at this amendment,’ said OutServe-SLDN executive director Matt Thorn. ‘This amendment is a mean-spirited, unconstitutional attempt to impede the recruitment of openly transgender individuals who want to serve their country.’
Meanwhile HRC (Human Rights Campaign), the largest LGBTI advocacy group in the US, called Hartzler’s ‘unconscionable.’
‘It puts their health at risk and undermines military readiness by stripping away the ability of medical professionals to ensure their patients have the care they need and deserve,’ said Stephen Peters, HRC National Press Secretary and a Marine veteran. ‘It is imperative that the House of Representatives reject this harmful amendment.’
Transgender people have been allowed to serve openly in the military since October 2016. However, transgender people are not currently allowed to join the military.
In essence the current policy is, if you’re already in the military, it’s safe to come out as transgender. But if you’re trying to join the military, you must stay closeted.
The Pentagon was due to start accepting new transgender troops on 1 July 2017 per changes initiated under the Obama administration. However, it was announced in June, on the eve of the deadline, they are postponing the policy another six months.
Rep. Hartzler attempted to prevent any transgender people from serving in the military at all. She introduced a different amendment banning all transgender people in the military, but withdrew it before it came to a vote in the committee.
Estimates of cost
During committee discussion, Hartzler said that paying for gender reassignment surgery would cost $1.35 billion (€1.18 billion, £1.04 billion) over the next 10 years.
However, the RAND Corp study estimated the figure to be between $2.4 million (€2.1 million, £1.8 million) and $8.4 million (€7.36 million, £6.5 million) out of the Defense Department’s proposed $697 billion (€6.11 billion, £539 billion) annual budget.
The RAND study estimates that 30 to 140 people would seek new hormone treatment each year, while 25 to 130 would seek gender transition-related surgeries.
During the Rules Committee hearing, Rep. Jared Polis, a Democrat from Colorado, attempted to remove Hartzler’s amendment from the bill. However, the Republicans on the committee, in a party-line vote, allowed it to remain.
Polis is gay and the co-chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus.
The Washington Blade reported that before the vote Polis commented, ‘Medical treatments are between doctors and patients. There’s not an appropriate issue for somebody to prevent a particular kind of medical treatment from being given. The Hartzler amendment undermines readiness by arbitrarily limiting medical care for transgender service members.”
However, the Blade also reported that Rep. Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican and the chair of the Rules Committee, said during the committee consideration that gender reassignment surgery ‘is seen as elected surgery.’
UPDATE: The US House of Representatives this afternoon voted down the amendment. The amendment was defeated by a vote of 214 to 209, with 24 Republicans joining all 190 Democrats who voted against it.
The Washington Post reported the Representatives had a heated discussion before voting.
Rep. Hartzler argued for her amendment. She contended covering costs of transition surgery would hurt military readiness since soldiers would be ‘nondeployable’ for up to nine months while revering from surgery.
Rep. Duncan D. Hunter, a Republican from California, said, ‘You’re joining the U.S. military. Choose what gender you are before you join. … We’re not stopping transgender people from joining. We’re saying taxpayers in this country right now are not going to foot the bill for it.’
Meanwhile, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, a Democrat from New York, said that Defense Secretary James Mattis does not need to be ‘micromanaged by members of this body to advance their own agendas.’