Transgender Americans Are Still Signing Up For Military Service Amid Proposed Ban

“This is real, and it’s time to actually get ready for this to happen.”

Transgender individuals have been allowed to serve in the United States military since 2016 — with an estimated 4,000 currently doing so — but they haven't been allowed to enlist until January 1 of this year. Now the first openly trans individuals are signing up for service, despite efforts by President Donald Trump and his administration to ban them from the armed forces.

Those new recruits include 37-year-old Nicholas Bade, who visited an Air Force recruiting office in Chicago last week in his first step in fulfilling a lifelong aspiration. "I just couldn't face the idea of doing it as a traditional female," he told Reuters.

Now, for the first time, transgender individuals can tell recruiters if their gender identity does not match the gender they were assigned at birth without being disqualified. "The people I know in the military have said, 'I don't care what your gender identity is, as long as you can do your job,'" Bade added.

The Obama administration set a deadline of July 1, 2017 for the Defense Department to start accepting transgender recruits, but when that time came, Trump tweeted that transgender people would no longer be allowed to serve "in any capacity." After a court challenge, the Trump administration moved the deadline to January 1, 2018. They tried to postpone that deadline, too, but they've been unsuccessful. In December, the Pentagon sent recruiters a policy paper with instructions regarding transgender applicants, and when the new year arrived, so too did the change.

"I was waiting on January 1 for an announcement that it was delayed again, and it really hit me that day: This is real, and it's time to actually get ready for this to happen," Bade told BuzzFeed News. "It's super exciting. I am ready to go."

Now, in the days and weeks after that deadline, transgender recruits like Bade are signing up at recruitment centers nationwide, even though their future is uncertain. A Pentagon review will be finalized next month and sent to the president, who is expected to make a decision in March about transgender inclusion in the military.

"I'm not worried," 23-year-old Logan Downs, who seeks to join the Air Force, told Reuters.

In Trump's tweets proposing the ban, he argued that the military "cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender [sic] in the military would entail." A Rand Corporation study, however, estimated that annual health care for transgender members only accounted for $2.4 million to $8.4 million of the more than $50 billion in Defense Department health care spending. Rand also noted that countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and Israel allow transgender individuals to serve with little to no impact on operational effectiveness.

Gaylan Johnson, a spokesperson at the U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command, told BuzzFeed News his division has been ready for the change since June, when the deadline was then just a month away. "We are prepared to process transgender applicants, treating everyone with dignity and respect," he said. "We are all ready to go."

Cover image via Shutterstock / bumble dee.

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