Pentagon has not banned transgender troops, for now
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.”