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Post Court Ruling, Military Will Accept Openly Transgender Recruits


Starting January 1, openly transgender individuals will be able to enlist in the military for the first time. President Trump wanted to block this but keeps losing in court. The president's most recent setback came yesterday. And NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre is here to talk about it. Hi, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Didn't the president tweet last summer that he wasn't going to allow transgender individuals to serve in the military in any capacity?

MYRE: That's correct. He did that last July. And this came about a year after the Obama administration said that transgender people could serve openly and...

INSKEEP: So he's reversing that policy - or tried to anyway.

MYRE: That's correct. And the transgender troops have continued serving. And the military did say that they were going to study the issue of new enlistments. And Trump wanted to ban both of those things. And he issued the tweet in July. He issued a directive in August saying this should stop. This immediately prompted several court cases from transgender troops who said they wanted to keep serving. We've now had a series of rulings that have gone against the president.

INSKEEP: What happened in court yesterday?

MYRE: Well, there were actually two rulings against the president yesterday - one in Washington, D.C., and then one later in Washington state. The one in Washington, D.C., advanced things a little bit because it did make the January 1 date the moment, for the first time ever, that transgender people could openly enlist because previously you couldn't openly do so - enlist if you were transgender.

INSKEEP: What's the reasoning of the court here - it's equal protection under the law?

MYRE: Right. Most of the judges are saying - now that we've had four rulings, they're citing due process and discrimination. And for those reasons, they're saying you can't just boot somebody out. And this is really important in this case - even though these are interim rulings, not the final ruling. They're saying that real harm would be caused to these troops if they're kicked out for a year or two while this case plays out in court.

INSKEEP: Does the administration appeal?

MYRE: Yes, they absolutely say they're appealing. Sarah Sanders, the president's spokesperson, said so. The military says they're going to go ahead with this. But they have a review process that probably isn't going to finish till February or March. So they were looking for a little more time. But they said they will go ahead with it. Now, I spoke with Aaron Belkin of the Palm Center, which works on LGBT issues in the military. And he says the military has had time to prepare for this.

AARON BELKIN: Today's announcements, both by the court and the Pentagon, signal that there is an awareness that it's not right to make military policy by tweets. And when there's been a deliberate process of study, then that process should be respected and implemented.

INSKEEP: So I'm trying to figure this out, Greg. You said the military is going to review this even as the court cases continue. What's the question if you're in the military? Is the question can transgender people serve in the same capacities as everyone else without any undue harm to the military? Is that the question?

MYRE: Right. That seems to be the basic point of - you know, what sort of burden would this cause? Are there physical issues - medical issues? There's also the issue of the cost of surgeries that would take place and that sort of thing. So that's what they're trying to work out. But they have had several thousand members who are serving now.

INSKEEP: That's something to keep in mind. It's happening now. People are serving now in various capacities.

MYRE: That's right. And the estimates vary. We don't have hard figures. But the RAND Corporation did a study, and its estimate is as many as 10,000 are in fact serving right now.

INSKEEP: NPR's Greg Myre, thanks for the update.

MYRE: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.