Military tries to craft transgender policy
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s tweets declaring transgender people unwelcome in the armed forces have set off a flurry of meetings to devise a policy that would affect the careers of hundreds of service members.
Months after officially allowing transgender troops to serve openly in the military, the Defense Department may be forced to discharge people who willingly came forward after being told that they’d be protected.
A team of military lawyers has been pulled together to deal with the matter, Adm. Paul Zukunft, the Coast Guard commandant, said this week at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The lawyers are working with the White House to flesh out some of the issues, and they’re bolstered by a Pentagon working group that had initially been set up to advance the implementation of the year-old repeal of a transgender ban.
Now, they must deal with whatever new, post-tweet policy emerges, according to the Pentagon officials, who weren’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter and requested anonymity.
Pentagon chief spokesman Dana White confirmed that talks between the White House and the Pentagon to work out the details of a new transgender policy had begun. Although it’s unclear what the result will be, the discussions show that Trump’s aides are taking seriously his three-tweet salvo last week and treating it as guidance for an upheaval in one of the military’s most sensitive equal-rights questions.
Whatever the final policy, court challenges are expected. And the personnel, health care and fairness issues sure to come up have activists concerned that some soldiers, sailors and others will have to hide their identities to remain in the military.
It’s a scenario that raises the specter of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that once governed gays in the military. While the 1993 compromise banned gay men and women from serving, it essentially safeguarded their places in the ranks as long as they kept their homosexuality hidden. More than 13,000 were discharged after the policy was enacted. While many others remained, they were forced to keep their sexuality in the closet.
Now, asks Sarah Warbelow, legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, “Are they going to go on a witch hunt?”
The Pentagon working group had been studying health care questions and how and when transgender people might be allowed to enlist. Now its members and the military’s legal experts must contemplate forcing out transgender troops, including many who have served multiple combat tours.
If Trump stands by his tweet and the Pentagon is told to begin discharging transgender service members, officials must decide who would be thrown out, what type of discharge would they receive, and how long of a grace period would they have before leaving.
There is no uniform method of tracking transgender troops across the services. That creates further challenges, such as whether the Pentagon would target service members who have already asked to have their sex changed in the personnel system or it would target anyone who simply sought counseling on the matter.