Trump opts to ban trans­gen­der troops

Too bur­den­some, he says; next steps un­known for those al­ready serv­ing

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE -

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump de­clared a ban Wed­nes­day on trans­gen­der troops serv­ing any­where in the U.S. mil­i­tary, draw­ing bi­par­ti­san de­nun­ci­a­tions and throw­ing cur­rently serv­ing trans­gen­der ser­vice mem­bers into limbo.

“Please be ad­vised that the United States Gov­ern­ment will not ac­cept or al­low Trans­gen­der in­di­vid­u­als to serve in any ca­pac­ity in the U.S. Mil­i­tary,” the com­man­der in chief tweeted.

Trump wrote that he had con­sulted with “my gen­er­als and mil­i­tary ex­perts,” but he did not men­tion De­fense Sec­re­tary James Mat­tis, the re­tired Marine gen­eral who

less than a month ago told the mil­i­tary ser­vice chiefs to spend an­other six months weigh­ing the costs and ben­e­fits of al­low­ing trans­gen­der peo­ple to en­list. At the time, Mat­tis said his di­rec­tive “does not pre­sup­pose the out­come of the re­view.”

The Pen­tagon has re­fused to re­lease any data on the num­ber of trans­gen­der peo­ple cur­rently serv­ing. A Rand Corp. study has es­ti­mated the num­ber at be­tween 1,320 and 6,630 out of 1.3 mil­lion ac­tive-duty troops.

Crit­i­cism for Trump’s ac­tion was im­me­di­ate and strong from both po­lit­i­cal par­ties.

His de­ci­sion is “harm­ful, mis­guided and weak­ens, not strength­ens, our mil­i­tary,” said Sen. Kirsten Gil­li­brand, D-N.Y.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a Viet­nam War hero, said Trump was sim­ply wrong.

“Any Amer­i­can who meets cur­rent med­i­cal and readi­ness stan­dards should be al­lowed to con­tinue serv­ing,” he said. “There is no rea­son to force ser­vice mem­bers who are able to fight, train and de­ploy to leave the mil­i­tary — re­gard­less of their gen­der iden­tity.”

But not ev­ery­one at the Capi­tol agreed.

Rep. Dun­can Hunter, a Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­can and a mem­ber of the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, said: “The pres­i­dent’s de­ci­sion was the ab­so­lute right de­ci­sion. … It’s about time that a de­ci­sion is made to re­store the war­rior cul­ture and al­low the U.S. mil­i­tary to get back to busi­ness.”

TROOPS CON­CERNED

When asked what would hap­pen to openly trans­gen­der peo­ple serv­ing on ac­tive duty, White House spokesman Sarah Huck­abee San­ders said the De­fense De­part­ment and the White House would “have to work to­gether as im­ple­men­ta­tion takes place and is done so law­fully.”

That raised con­cerns for trans­gen­der peo­ple al­ready in uni­form.

“Ev­ery­body is hurt, ev­ery­body is scared,” said Rudy Ak­bar­ian, 26, who is in the mil­i­tary but did not want to iden­tify his branch.

Ak­bar­ian, who said his chain of com­mand was sup­port­ive as he tran­si­tioned from fe­male to male, said his time to re-en­list is com­ing up and that he might stay to en­sure there is a strong voice for trans­gen­der

troops like him­self.

“I’m go­ing to re­main hope­ful,” he said. “Amer­ica is re­ally pro­gres­sive and def­i­nitely smart, and there are a lot of trans­gen­der mem­bers serv­ing in crit­i­cal roles.”

Shane Ortega, a 30-year-old re­tired staff sergeant in Los An­ge­les, said he’s con­cerned more for civil­ians than trans­gen­der troops.

Ortega, who tran­si­tioned to male while serv­ing in the Army and served com­bat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, said, “When Don­ald Trump at­tacks what Amer­ica calls its he­roes or its war­rior class, it means it’s only a mat­ter of time be­fore he starts at­tack­ing and dis­as­sem­bling the Amer­i­can pub­lic, and that’s what I have the most fear of.”

Gay- and trans­gen­der-rights groups and re­search or­ga­ni­za­tions that have worked to craft poli­cies around the mil­i­tary ser­vice of trans­gen­der in­di­vid­u­als ex­pressed anger at the move.

“The pres­i­dent is cre­at­ing a worse ver­sion of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’” said Aaron Belkin, di­rec­tor of the Palm Cen­ter think tank, re­fer­ring to the Bill Clin­ton-era pol­icy in which gays could not openly serve in the mil­i­tary.

Belkin said that “dis­cred­ited” pol­icy had harmed readi­ness and that Trump’s new one would have sim­i­lar ef­fects.

Joshua Block, a se­nior staff at­tor­ney with the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union’s LGBT and HIV Project, called the move “an out­ra­geous and des­per­ate ac­tion” and asked trans­gen­der ser­vice mem­bers to get in touch with the or­ga­ni­za­tion, say­ing it was “ex­am­in­ing all our op­tions on how to fight this.”

Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pen­tagon spokesman, said the Pen­tagon was work­ing with the White House to “ad­dress the new guid­ance” from Trump.

HALT­ING A TREND

Trump’s sud­den dec­la­ra­tion ap­pears to halt a decades­long trend to­ward more in­clu­sive poli­cies on mil­i­tary ser­vice, in­clud­ing the re­peal in 2010 of the ban on gays serv­ing openly.

Clin­ton in 1993 be­gan the push to al­low gays to serve. In De­cem­ber 2015, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s Pen­tagon chief, Ash­ton Carter, an­nounced that all mil­i­tary po­si­tions would be open to women. Al­low­ing trans­gen­der troops to serve came next.

Last week, when asked about the trans­gen­der is­sue at a Se­nate hear­ing, Gen. Paul Selva, vice chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, “I am an ad­vo­cate of ev­ery qual­i­fied per­son who can meet the phys­i­cal stan­dards to serve in our uni­formed ser­vices to be able to do so.” He men­tioned no op­po­si­tion among ser­vice chiefs to al­low­ing trans­gen­der in­di­vid­u­als to serve.

Trans­gen­der ser­vice mem­bers have been able to serve openly since 2016, when Carter ended the ban. Since Oct. 1, trans­gen­der troops have been able to re­ceive med­i­cal care and start chang­ing their gen­der iden­ti­fi­ca­tions in the Pen­tagon’s per­son­nel sys­tem.

Carter also gave the ser­vices un­til July 1 to de­velop poli­cies to al­low peo­ple al­ready iden­ti­fy­ing as trans­gen­der to join the mil­i­tary if they meet nor­mal stan­dards and have been stable in their iden­ti­fied gen­ders for 18 months.

On June 30, Mat­tis ex­tended the July 1 dead­line to Jan. 1, say­ing the ser­vices should study the ef­fect on the “readi­ness and lethal­ity of our forces.” Just last week, he or­dered a high-level Pen­tagon re­view aimed at ver­i­fy­ing that all mil­i­tary per­son­nel poli­cies “sup­port and en­hance warfight­ing readi­ness and force lethal­ity.”

But in a se­ries of tweets, Trump said al­low­ing trans­gen­der troops to serve is an unac­cept­able bur­den on the mil­i­tary’s abil­ity to fight and win wars.

“Our mil­i­tary must be fo­cused on de­ci­sive and over­whelm­ing vic­tory and can­not be bur­dened with the tremen­dous med­i­cal costs and dis­rup­tion that trans­gen­der in the mil­i­tary would en­tail,” he wrote.

The Pen­tagon did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to a re­quest for an es­ti­mate of these costs. But the Rand Corp., a fed­er­ally funded think tank, has es­ti­mated that each year be­tween 29 and 129 ser­vice mem­bers will seek tran­si­tion-re­lated care that could dis­rupt their abil­ity to de­ploy.

Rand also es­ti­mated that ex­tend­ing gen­der tran­si­tion­re­lated health care cover­age to trans­gen­der per­son­nel would cost the mil­i­tary $2.4 mil­lion to $8.4 mil­lion a year, out of a yearly Pen­tagon bud­get of more than $600 bil­lion.

The an­nounce­ment came as Congress con­sid­ers a spend­ing bill to fund the Pen­tagon.

Rep. Vicky Hart­zler, R-Mo., has pro­posed an amend­ment that would bar the Pen­tagon from spend­ing money on tran­si­tion surgery or re­lated hor­mone ther­apy, and other Repub­li­cans have pressed for sim­i­lar pro­vi­sions.

Hart­zler of­fered sup­port Wed­nes­day for Trump’s an­nounce­ment.

“Pleased to hear that re-alDon­ald Trump shares my readi­ness and cost con­cerns, & will be chang­ing this costly and dam­ag­ing pol­icy,” she said on Twit­ter.

Dur­ing his elec­tion cam­paign, Trump oc­ca­sion­ally pre­sented him­self as a po­ten­tial ally of gays, promis­ing to be a “real friend” of their com­mu­nity.

San­ders said Trump had made “a mil­i­tary de­ci­sion.” She said it was his judg­ment that al­low­ing trans­gen­der ser­vice “erodes mil­i­tary readi­ness and unit co­he­sion.”

San­ders said the “pres­i­dent’s na­tional se­cu­rity team was part of this con­sul­ta­tion” and that Trump “in­formed” Mat­tis of his de­ci­sion im­me­di­ately af­ter he made it Tues­day.

Carter, who served as de­fense sec­re­tary the last two years of Obama’s pres­i­dency, is­sued a state­ment crit­i­ciz­ing Trump’s move.

“I con­tinue to main­tain that what mat­ters in choos­ing those who serve is that they are best qual­i­fied,” Carter wrote. “To choose ser­vice mem­bers on other grounds than mil­i­tary qual­i­fi­ca­tions is so­cial pol­icy and has no place in our mil­i­tary.” In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Robert Burns, Cather­ine Lucey, Darlene Superville and Vi­vian Salama of The As­so­ci­ated Press; by Julie Hirschfeld Davis and He­lene Cooper of The

New York Times; and by Mike

DeBo­nis of The Wash­ing­ton Post.

AP/CAROLYN KASTER

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump speaks Wed­nes­day to a gath­er­ing of the Amer­i­can Le­gion Boys Na­tion and the Amer­i­can Le­gion Aux­il­iary Girls Na­tion in the White House Rose Gar­den hours af­ter his procla­ma­tion on trans­gen­der mil­i­tary per­son­nel. Trump said in a Tweet that he reached the de­ci­sion in con­sul­ta­tion with “my gen­er­als and mil­i­tary ex­perts.”

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