Transgender Americans will be able to continue serving in the military while the Department of Defense reviews Donald Trump’s order to ban them, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said.
In a statement, Mr Mattis said he was convening a panel of experts to examine the implications of prohibiting transgender Americans from serving in the armed forces, seeking to determine “what is best for the military’s combat effectiveness leading to victory on the battlefield”.
“In the interim, current policy with respect to currently serving members will remain in place”, Mr Mattis said.
Current policy allows transgender Americans to serve openly, reflecting a change initiated by former president Barack Obama. After initially catching military officials off guard by announcing on Twitter his plan to overturn Mr Obama’s directive, Mr Trump last week signed an executive order to make it official.
In addition to barring transgender Americans from serving, the order would halt the military from funding gender reassignment surgery.
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While some social conservatives have lauded Mr Trump’s move it has come under scrutiny from military officials who argue that transgender troops pose little threat to cohesion or effectiveness. It has generated multiple lawsuits filed on behalf of current or prospective transgender servicemembers.
Democrats in Congress have implored the administration to reconsider. More than 50 Democratic legislators responded to Mr Trump’s initial Twitter announcement with a letter to Mr Mattis urging him to “not to comply with any unconstitutional directive which may ultimately be issued”. A letter sent to Mr Trump this week marshaled a greater show of opposition, with 143 House Democrats – a majority of the caucus – calling the plan “ill-advised” and “detrimental to our national security”.