Last week, President Trump signed a memo banning the military from enlisting transgender people and paying for gender-confirmation surgeries. Transgender troops currently serving are allowed to remain on active duty for the next six months while Defense Secretary James Mattis and a panel of experts examine the issue and determine their fate. Meanwhile, most military leaders have spoken out against Trump’s ban.
Sound familiar? That’s because, as The Hill points out, a very similar scenario played out in 1995, when conservative lawmakers crafted a bill to discharge the nearly 1,050 service members who were living with HIV, regardless of readiness for duty. (Since 1985, Defense Department policy forbade people with HIV from enlisting or serving in combat and overseas; today, service members who seroconvert after joining the military may continue to serve.)
In 1995, the HIV ban on troops already serving did not have the backing of military leaders or President Clinton, who signed it nonetheless as part of the 1996 Department of Defense Authorization bill.
Clinton called the bill “blatantly discriminatory” and promised not to enforce it. As The Hill reports, when lawmakers realized that the Pentagon didn’t support the ban either—why discharge troops who were fit and had been trained?—they crafted and incorporated language into the Omnibus Appropriations Act that repealed the HIV ban.
Here we are, 22 years later, and military experts are now exploring whether transgender troops actually pose a threat to readiness, lethality and unit cohesion—nearly the same complaints once leveled against service members living with HIV.
For more about HIV-related issues in the armed services, click #Military and read the POZ cover story “Mission Critical: Fighting to Live and Serve With HIV in the U.S. Military.”