Pen­tagon has not banned trans­gen­der troops, for now

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By W.J. Hennigan and David G. Sav­age

WASH­ING­TON» The na­tion’s high­es­trank­ing mil­i­tary of­fi­cer said Thurs­day that the Pen­tagon has made “no mod­i­fi­ca­tions” to the Obama-era pol­icy al­low­ing trans­gen­der troops to serve openly in the mil­i­tary, a day af­ter Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump used so­cial me­dia to de­clare them banned from the armed forces.

Marine Gen. Joseph Dun­ford, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote in a memo to com­man­ders and se­nior en­listed lead­ers of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines that the mil­i­tary would con­tinue to “treat all of our per­son­nel with re­spect.”

Dun­ford said Pen­tagon pol­icy on trans­gen­der troops would not change un­til the White House has is­sued Trump’s di­rec­tive to Sec­re­tary of De­fense James Mat­tis through for­mal chan­nels — not on Twit­ter — and the sec­re­tary’s of­fice is­sues guid­ance on im­ple­men­ta­tion to the ser­vice chiefs.

The memo voiced nei­ther sup­port for nor op­po­si­tion to Trump’s de­ci­sion and ap­peared in­tended to calm wide­spread con­fu­sion and con­cern at the Pen­tagon, which was blind­sided when

Trump abruptly de­clared early Wed­nes­day on Twit­ter that the mil­i­tary would not “ac­cept or al­low” trans­gen­der troops to serve “in any ca­pac­ity.”

Dun­ford’s brief memo did not an­swer the ques­tion of when, how and whether the Pen­tagon would re-im­pose gen­der-based dis­crim­i­na­tion, and what would hap­pen to thou­sands of trans­gen­der troops, in­clud­ing many de­ployed over­seas, now in the armed forces.

Dun­ford’s memo sought to al­lay those fears, at least for the short term.

“There will be no mod­i­fi­ca­tions to the cur­rent pol­icy un­til the Pres­i­dent’s di­rec­tion has been re­ceived by the Sec­re­tary of De­fense and the Sec­re­tary has is­sued im­ple­men­ta­tion guid­ance,” he wrote.

“In the mean­time, we will con­tinue to treat all of our per­son­nel with re­spect,” he added. “As im­por­tantly, given the cur­rent fight and the chal­lenges we face, we will all re­main fo­cused on ac­com­plish­ing our as­signed mis­sions.”

A change of U.S. mil­i­tary pol­icy is typ­i­cally sub­ject to months, if not years, of study and le­gal vet­ting be­fore it’s rolled out. In this case, Trump told Mat­tis on Tues­day, a day be­fore he put out the de­ci­sion on Twit­ter.

Army Chief of Staff Mark Mil­ley told re­porters Thurs­day that he learned about Trump’s trans­gen­der ban on TV.

Pen­tagon spokes­woman Dana White said the De­fense Depart­ment is still “await­ing for­mal guid­ance from the White House” and would “fo­cus on our mis­sion of de­fend­ing our na­tion and on­go­ing op­er­a­tions against our foes, while en­sur­ing all ser­vice mem­bers are treated with re­spect.”

If im­ple­mented, the pres­i­dent’s di­rec­tive would re­verse a year-old pol­icy that al­lowed trans­gen­der sol­diers to serve openly for the first time in the ac­tive-duty force and the re­serves. It also al­lowed them to seek gen­der re­as­sign­ment surgery, hor­mone ther­apy and other treat­ments at mil­i­tary hos­pi­tals.

Trump’s sur­prise an­nounce­ment not only marked a re­treat for the Pen­tagon’s ef­fort to drop dis­crim­i­na­tory hur­dles. It was an about-face for Trump, who had vowed re­peat­edly dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign to sup­port gay, les­bian, bi­sex­ual and trans­gen­der peo­ple.

But the de­ci­sion ap­pealed to so­cial con­ser­va­tives, in­clud­ing some House Repub­li­cans who were threat­en­ing to block a $790 bil­lion de­fense and se­cu­rity spend­ing bill be­cause it con­tained money for the Pen­tagon to pay for med­i­cal treat­ment re­lated to gen­der tran­si­tion.

Trump’s de­ci­sion went fur­ther by ap­pear­ing to pre­empt an on­go­ing Pen­tagon study on whether to al­low openly trans­gen­der peo­ple to en­list. The mil­i­tary was ex­pected to be­gin that process July 1, but Mat­tis ap­proved a six-month de­lay on June 30.

In his tweets, Trump said he had de­cided to bar trans­gen­der troops be­cause the mil­i­tary “can­not be bur­dened with the tremen­dous med­i­cal costs and dis­rup­tion that trans­gen­der in the mil­i­tary would en­tail.”

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