45 senators ask Pentagon to avoid transgender ousters
WASHINGTON — A bloc of 45 U.S. senators asked the Pentagon not to discharge any transgender service members until the Defense Department completes an ongoing review of whether they should be able to continue serving in uniform.
The letter holds no legal sway over the Pentagon and lawmakers cannot stop President Donald Trump from carrying out his stated intention to ban transgender people from serving in uniform, but the letter puts almost half of the U.S. Senate on record as opposing the surprise announcement.
Separately, the top legal officers in 18 states and the District of Columbia asked Congress to pass legislation prohibiting discrimination against transgender service members.
Despite Trump’s directive, issued in a series of tweets Wednesday, the military’s highest-ranking officer said in a letter to senior military leaders Thursday that there will be “no modifications” to the current policy on transgender troops until further direction is received from the president.
“In the meantime, we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect,” said Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The White House has not yet said whether or when it would issue detailed instructions to the Pentagon to carry out Trump’s tweeted orders.
The letter from senators was written by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., a member of the Armed Services Committee who focuses on personnel matters. Aides said the letter is intended to encourage Defense Secretary James Mattis to complete the review exploring whether transgender people should be allowed to serve.
The senators ask that “at a minimum, you do not separate any service member due to the person’s gender identity until you have completed the assessment that you announced on June 30, have reported back to Congress about any challenges that you foresee in the accession and retention of transgender troops, and determined the Department is unable to mitigate these challenges.”
“Any American who wants to serve and meets the standards should be allowed to serve our country,” the senators added.
Ultimately, 45 senators signed Gillibrand’s letter — all Democrats except Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., the top Democrat on the armed services panel, was among the signatories.
Meanwhile, Hawaii Attorney General Douglas Chin sent a letter dated Thursday asking the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Armed Services committees to reaffirm in legislation that transgender people may not be banned from serving in the military. That letter urges lawmakers to include transgender protections in the National Defense Authorization Act.
Eighteen other attorneys general, who like Chin are all Democrats, also signed the document.
The president’s position would put in place a policy that “violates fundamental constitutional and American values,” the attorneys general said.
“The new ban harms our states’ transgender residents and marginalizes an entire group of people based solely on gender identity,” the letter said.
Gillibrand told CNN on Thursday that she was outraged by Trump’s unexpected announcement and said she would be introducing legislation to block Trump from banning transgender troops as part of consideration of the annual defense policy bill.
“These are men and women who woke up that morning … only to find out by Twitter that their president doesn’t want their service. I can’t think of something more disrespectful, more outrageous,” she told CNN.
Information for this article was contributed by Ed O’Keefe of The
Washington Post and by Audrey McAvoy of The Associated Press.