On 27 July President Trump announced that transgender people will no longer be allowed to serve in the US military. If the ban were to become official, the United States would fall out of the small circle of countries that allows transgender individuals to serve. To date, countries such as Canada, Australia, Israel, Thailand (in administrative positions) and South Africa protect full LGBTQIA+ rights in the military.
Col Kirstein of the South African Defence Force (SANDF) says that the Defence Force “is subservient to the Constitution of South Africa and therefore does not discriminate against people in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, cultural, language, [and] sexual orientation”. This is further entrenched in the Defence Act of 2002 which says that any member of the Defence Force or employee of the Department who discriminates against a person based on their sexual orientation is guilty of an offence and could, if found guilty, be imprisoned for a maximum of five years.
Additionally, all SANDF members are required to sign a Code of Conduct which says that members will “treat all people fairly and respect their rights and dignity at all times, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, culture, language or sexual orientation”.
Trump argued that the US Military could not afford the “tremendous medical costs and disruption” that transgender people would cause in the armed forces. However, according to a study commissioned by the US Department of Defence, done by RAND in 2016, the estimated cost of transition related healthcare would cost the US government between $2.4 million and $8.4 million which is only a 0.04 to 0.13 percent increase on health care expenditure. The same study also found when assessing foreign military policies and impacts that transgender individuals in the armed forces have no significant impact on “unit cohesion, operational effectiveness or readiness” of the military and that instead it benefited all service members by “creating a more inclusive and diverse force.”
In the case of the provision of transition related health care in the SANDF, Col Kirstein says that all members of the SANDF are entitled to free healthcare that is provided by the SA Military, as long as they are serving members. However, any medical or proposed treatment of a member is protected by physician-patient privilege and it is not the policy of the SANDF to discuss “personal matters in the public domain”.
At the time of going to print, no official statement was released on when and how the transgender ban would come into effect in the US military.
Image: SANDF website