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Senate Defense Bill: Threatening Gender-Affirming Care for Transgender Troops and Families

The Senate's version of the NDAA includes amendments that bar Pentagon funding for gender-affirming surgeries and restrict access to hormone therapy for transgender troops and their children. These changes, supported by Republicans and Senator Joe Manchin, increase the likelihood of becoming law. The amendments have sparked concerns among advocates for transgender service members, emphasizing the need for equitable healthcare. Negotiations between the House and Senate will determine the final outcome.

In a surprising turn of events, the Senate’s version of the must-pass annual defense policy bill revealed significant implications for transgender service members and their families. Legislative text released Monday evening disclosed that the military would not be able to pay for surgeries for transgender troops under the current provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Furthermore, transgender military children could lose access to hormone therapy, puberty blockers, and other medications if the treatment “could result in sterilization.”

Legislative Changes and Their Implications

These amendments, introduced during the Senate Armed Services Committee’s closed-door sessions last month, passed with the unanimous support of committee Republicans and independent Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia. With similar efforts present in the House’s version of the bill, the inclusion of these amendments raises the likelihood of these restrictions becoming law, effectively curtailing gender-affirming care for transgender troops and their family members.

The House’s attempts to ban coverage of gender-affirming care for transgender service members have garnered significant attention. However, the Senate’s amendments have largely flown under the radar, only coming to light with the bill’s text and accompanying report released Monday night. Transgender troops have faced fluctuating policies for years, amidst GOP efforts to ban their open service or restrict the Pentagon from covering their healthcare needs.

Historical Context

The Obama administration allowed transgender troops to serve openly in 2016. However, after former President Donald Trump reinstated the ban in 2017, President Joe Biden revoked it in 2021. Despite this, Republicans have continued to push for bills targeting transgender troops. Conservative voices, including the Project 2025 think tank, which aims to influence a potential second Trump term, are advocating for a renewed ban on transgender service members.

Kara Corcoran, vice president of the transgender service member group SPARTA Pride and an Army infantry major, expressed her concerns to, stating, “I understand that this is an election year and that, in many ways, people in the military fall victim to at times a strategic compromise that often people will make in order to appease both sides of the aisle. One thing that should not be a compromise is health care for our service members.”

The Impact on Transgender Troops

Accurate data on the number of transgender troops is limited. However, a 2016 Rand Corp. report estimated that between 1,320 and 6,630 service members identified as transgender. Gender-affirming healthcare costs are a small fraction of the overall defense budget, with the Pentagon spending $3.1 million on surgeries from 2016 to 2021.

The Senate’s NDAA amendments would bar Pentagon funding for “performing or facilitating sex change surgeries” and prohibit the use of Defense Department facilities for such purposes. Tricare, the military’s healthcare program, would also be restricted from covering affirming hormone therapy, puberty blockers, and other medical interventions for minors if they could result in sterilization.

Broader Implications

Beyond the military, gender-affirming care for minors has been a particular target of conservative legislators. The American Civil Liberties Union lists 78 bills introduced this year in state legislatures aimed at restricting healthcare by age. While the American Academy of Pediatrics acknowledges that research into the long-term risks of puberty blockers on fertility is “currently limited and provides varied results,” they still recommend that transgender youth have access to “comprehensive, gender-affirming and developmentally appropriate health care.”

In addition to the amendments barring gender-affirmation care, the Senate Armed Services Committee considered an amendment that would have prevented service members from changing their gender in Defense Department records. This amendment failed, with Manchin voting alongside Democrats against it.

Political Dynamics

The passage of these amendments in both the House and Senate versions of the NDAA sets the stage for contentious negotiations on the final version of the bill. Traditionally, anti-LGBTQ+ measures have been a red line for Democrats, creating uncertainty about the outcome of these negotiations. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer criticized the House version of the bill, saying it was “loaded with anti-LGBTQ, anti-choice, anti-environment, and other divisive amendments guaranteed not to pass the Senate.”

Schumer emphasized the need for bipartisan collaboration to honor and respect all who serve in defense of the nation. Regardless of the bill’s final outcome, Corcoran from SPARTA vowed that transgender service members “will continue to fight for our right to live in a free America where every citizen and service member has inalienable human rights.”

How to Contact Your Senators

Your voice matters in the fight for equitable healthcare for transgender service members and their families. Here’s how you can contact your senators and make a difference:

  1. Find Your Senators: Visit the official U.S. Senate website and enter your state to find your senators’ contact information.
  2. Call or Email: Use the provided phone numbers or email addresses to express your concerns. Be concise, respectful, and clear about the importance of maintaining healthcare for transgender troops.
  3. Social Media: Many senators are active on platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Tag them in your posts or send direct messages to ensure your voice is heard.
  4. Write a Letter: A handwritten letter can be a powerful way to communicate your concerns. Address it to your senator’s office in Washington, D.C.

Taking a few moments to reach out can have a significant impact on shaping policies that support our transgender service members.

The Bottom Line

The House passed its version of the NDAA with a record $895 billion in defense spending, a 1% increase from last year. The Senate Armed Services Committee introduced its version on Monday, authorizing $923.3 billion for defense funding. The NDAA includes a 5.3% annual increase in the Department of Defense’s fiscal year budget. Both chambers of Congress will need to reconcile their versions of the bill before voting on a final, unified version.

In a landmark decision announced in June, President Joe Biden will pardon U.S. military veterans who were discharged or convicted under military law for consensual same-sex relations. This move, aligning with ongoing Pride Month celebrations, marks a significant step toward rectifying past injustices faced by LGBTQ+ service members.

As the legislative process unfolds, the transgender community and their allies must remain vigilant and vocal in their advocacy for equitable treatment and access to essential healthcare for all service members.

Transvitae Staff
Transvitae Staff
Staff Members of Transvitae here to assist you on your journey, wherever it leads you.


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