By Maria Caspani and Colette Luke
NEWYORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Nearly 60 percent of Americans said transgender people should be allowed to serve in the U.S. armed forces, according to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll conducted ahead of a congressional panel’s review, set for Wednesday, of Trump administration curbs on transgender service.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 22 ruled in favour of letting the Trump administration enforce its policy of barring many transgender people from the military. Implementation of the policy has been delayed by legal wrangling in a lower court case that the Supreme Court did not directly address.
The high court’s ruling and the President Donald Trump’s policy have dismayed some transgender service members, such as Army Sergeant First Class Kai Landeros, 38. In the service since 2005 and twice deployed to Iraq, he is based at Fort Huachuca in Arizona,
“It’s just disappointing,” Landeros told Reuters.
“You put forth your best effort every single day, something that you love doing and then to be told you shouldn’t be in the military … when you are fully capable and competent of serving. I don’t see why there should be an issue,” he said.
In the poll, conducted from Jan. 25 to Feb. 16, 59 percent of respondents said transgender people should be able to serve, while 24 percent said they should not. Of those in favour of service, 67 percent said the military should also provide medical care related to gender transition.
The poll showed a partisan split, with 79 percent of Democrats in favour of transgender troops serving versus 38 percent of Republicans. Republican support has grown since 2017, when 32 percent backed transgender personnel.
Trump in 2017 announced a plan to ban transgender people from the military, reversing Democratic former President Barack Obama’s policy of allowing transgender troops to serve openly and get medical transition care.
In March 2018, Trump backed a revised policy from then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. It banned, in some circumstances, transgender people with gender dysphoria, or distress due to internal conflict between physical gender and gender identity.
The Mattis policy also banned transgender people who seek or have undergone gender transition steps. But it allowed people diagnosed with gender dysphoria during the Obama policy to stay in the military and serve according to their gender identity.
After several federal courts blocked both versions of administration’s policy as unconstitutional, the government asked the Supreme Court to intervene. It lifted lower court injunctions, but did not resolve the underlying question of the legality of the Republican president’s plan.
U.S. Navy Master-at-Arms Matthew McCarty, based at a Naval station in South Carolina and in the service since 2013, said Trump’s ban came as a stab in the back. “They’re treating it like we’re mutants and we’re not able to serve just like everyone else next to us,” said McCarty, 25.
Asked for comment, a Defense Department spokeswoman defended the Trump policy, saying it is not a ban on transgender service members, but a policy on gender dysphoria.
Congressional Democrats have condemned the policy as discriminatory. Wednesday’s hearing of the Democratic-led House of Representatives Armed Services Committee will include the testimony of several transgender service personnel as well as members of the Trump administration including James Stewart, the under secretary of defence for personnel and readiness.
The Reuters/Ipsos poll surveyed 8,823 adults online in English across the United States and it has a credibility interval, a measure of precision, of 2 percentage points.
(Additional reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and David Gregorio)