March 29, 2018 / 6:56 PM / a month ago

Pentagon silent on U.S. transgender policy

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Nearly a week after President Donald Trump signed a memorandum banning some transgender people from serving in the U.S. military, Pentagon officials on Thursday refused to answer questions about the policy except to say they would continue to follow court orders currently blocking the ban.

The Pentagon in Washington, U.S., is seen from aboard Air Force One, March 29, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Last Friday, the White House announced Trump had signed the memorandum, but also had given the secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security authority to implement policies as they see fit.

Since then, the Pentagon has mostly declined to answer even basic questions, like who was on a panel that provided Defense Secretary Jim Mattis with recommendations.

“I know you have a lot of questions about this topic, so I want to be up front about what I can address today. We will continue to comply with four court orders assessing transgender applicants for military service and retaining current transgender service members,” Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White told reporters on Thursday.

“Because there is ongoing litigation and to safeguard the integrity of the court process, I am unable to provide any further details at this time,” White added.

A number of federal judges have issued rulings blocking Trump’s ban, saying it would probably violate the U.S. Constitutional right to equal protection under the law.

Trump’s memorandum followed his pledge in July to ban transgender people from the military in a move that would reverse former President Barack Obama’s policy.

In a memo from Mattis to the White House, also released late last Friday, the Pentagon said transgender individuals with a history of gender dysphoria are disqualified from military service “except under certain limited circumstances.”

Mattis added that transgender individuals who require or have undergone gender transition were also disqualified.

Lawmakers, former officials and LGBT advocates have criticized the policy.

“The government is in litigation about a lot of issues all the time, but that is not an excuse for declining to talk about them,” said Aaron Belkin, executive director of the Palm Center, an LGBT-rights think tank in California.

“It is quite striking to take aim at your own troops and then refuse to talk about that,” Belkin added.

According to the Pentagon, 8,980 service members reportedly identify as transgender, but only 937 active duty service members were diagnosed with gender dysphoria.

In an impromptu press briefing this week, Mattis declined to answer questions on the topic.

“I’m not going to discuss transgender. I’ve already said that two times now. I’m not going to discuss it,” Mattis said.

Reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by David Gregorio

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