Karen Handel taking wait-and-see approach to trans in military

U.S. Rep. Karen Handel – the newly minted Republican lawmaker from Georgia's 6th Congressional District – said the military shouldn't pay for gender transition surgeries but stopped short of agreeing with a ban on transgender people in the military.

Handel's comments to the Marietta Daily Journal came Monday, a week after President Donald Trump tweeted that he will ban transgender people from serving in the U.S. military. Handel said she's taking a wait-and-see approach.

Q: You saw that he announced he would like to ban transgender troops from the military. Is that a good idea in your opinion?

A: I think you have to see what the actual directive is going to be. As you know, the military is not going to act on a 40 character tweet, so we need to wait and see what that’s going to look like. What I will say is this: I do not think that the military should be required to pay for the transition surgery. That is an elective. I just don’t think they should be required to do that.

The Pentagon lifted its ban on transgender service members in June 2016. President Barack Obama also announced plans for the military to pay for gender transition surgery, which it historically not covered. The cost was minimal when compared to amounts the military spends on other issues, including erectile dysfunction and bands. Via the Atlantic:

The military has not historically covered gender-transition surgeries, though President Barack Obama did announce plans for it to begin doing so. That cost would be between $2.4 million and $8.4 million annually for transition-related costs, according to a RAND analysis commissioned by the Department of Defense. The group estimated there are between 1,320 and 6,630 active-duty transgender servicepeople currently. A study in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2015 put the number at 12,800 people and $4.2 million to $5.6 million, concluding that “doctors agree that such care is medically necessary.”

This would be a military health-care spending increase of 0.04 to 0.13 percent. Even in the most extreme case, it is one tenth of the annual $84 million that the military spends on medication for erectile dysfunction.

The relative costs drops into the ten-thousandths of a percent when taken in context of the Department of Defense budget as a whole, expected to be proposed at $640 billion. The F-35 cost $1.5 trillion. Military bands cost taxpayers $437 million.

Georgia Equality blasted Trump's ban on transgender military members, calling it a reflection on the president's "true feeling toward LGBTQ people."

Given that a Defense Department study concluded that transgender service members do not harm unit cohesion, and allowing them to fulfill their duty will have no effect on military readiness or military budgets. 

"This is done strictly as bigotry and has no purpose.  And it has already been proven trans people can serve in the military and not only in our country but also several other countries in the world,” said Monica Helms, a transgender Georgian who served 8 years in the US Navy.

We have qualified and trained transgender service members already in place, as well as transgender Americans who are able and willing to serve their country. Retaining talented service members—rather than discharging them simply because of their gender identity—strengthens our military readiness. 

"It violates our values that anyone who's qualified for the job should be allowed to do the job,” said Georgia Equality’s Transgender Inclusion Organizer, Chanel Haley.

Handel, a Republican, doubled-down on her anti-LGBT views in the closing days of the 6th District race in June despite initially expressing compassion for LGBT people when she announced her campaign months earlier. She beat Democrat Jon Ossoff 52% to 48%.

Handel is likely to face transgender issues soon. She is a member of the House Subcommittee on the Constitution & Civil Justice, which has been assigned a bill that would ban all federal civil rights laws from protecting transgender people. The anti-LGBT legislation, HR 2796, is sponsored by Rep. Pete Olson, a Texas Republican.