Pentagon Officials Say Transgender People Can Enlist In Military Next Year
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
The Pentagon says it will let openly transgender people enlist starting on January 1. This comes after several court rulings, including one today. All have blocked President Trump's attempt to ban transgender people from the armed forces. NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre is here in the studio to talk about this. Hi, Greg.
GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hey, Kelly.
MCEVERS: So we're really talking about two groups of people here - right? - transgender service members and those who actually want to enlist. Where do these two groups now stand?
MYRE: So the tale begins in the middle of last year - year and a half ago when transgender troops already serving in the military were allowed to serve and do so openly. And then the military said on the second part of that that they would study how to handle enlistments - people who wanted to join, openly transgender people.
Move forward to July of this year. Trump tweets. President Trump says he does not want any transgender people in the military - wants to kick out those who are in the military and not allow any enlistments, followed that up a month later with a directive. This prompted several lawsuits from transgender members of the military. And we've had two cases already where federal judges have ruled against the president.
MCEVERS: So what happened in court today?
MYRE: One of those judges - a federal district judge here in Washington, D.C. - said that the Trump administration can't get a delay that it was seeking. She said the military needs to go ahead with its own date that it set of January 1, 2018. They've had 18 months to study this issue. They're making vague claims about needing more time and needing a delay. She said she saw no reason for that. So January 1 will usher in a new era when openly transgender people can enlist.
MCEVERS: What has been the reaction - today's ruling?
MYRE: Well, I spoke with Aaron Belkin. He's with the Palm Center, which works on LGBT issues in the military. And he said this is the latest in a series of important rulings.
AARON BELKIN: Today's announcements both by the court and the Pentagon signal that there's 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.
MYRE: And then over at the White House, Spokesperson Sarah Sanders disagreed with the ruling and says the Justice Department is checking into other legal options.
MCEVERS: Checking into options - I mean, does that mean the issue isn't really settled yet?
MYRE: That's true. All of these rulings so far are temporary. They're stays. And this could play out for some time. I asked Belkin about this, and he said the government could keep appealing the stays. And when that's exhausted, then you'll have the actual trial. And again, it's these transgender members of the military who are suing the president and the administration, saying, we want to stay in the military. That could be a lengthy trial. And when that's over, there could be appeals to that. So we're looking at pretty drawn-out process. But in the interim, transgender people apparently will be able to stay in the military and enlist.
MCEVERS: So it sounds like a question of how long the White House is willing to fight on this, too.
MYRE: Absolutely. They could keep pushing, or they could give up and then go to trial.
MCEVERS: And just for some context here, I mean, how many transgender people are already serving in the military now?
MYRE: We don't have any official figures from the Pentagon. Now, there's private groups that have tried to make several counts, but these really are estimates. And the range is quite wide. Some estimates put it at just a couple thousand. The Rand Corporation has done a - the most detailed study that they'd felt they could do estimating about 10,000 or so, including both active troops and reservists.
MCEVERS: NPR's Greg Myre, thanks a lot.
MYRE: Thank you, Kelly.
(SOUNDBITE OF KAKI KING'S "SO MUCH FOR SO LITTLE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.