Trump opts to ban transgender troops
Too burdensome, he says; next steps unknown for those already serving
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.”
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.
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.”