Mil­i­tary tries to craft trans­gen­der pol­icy

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NEWS - LOLITA C. BAL­DOR

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.

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