President Trump took to Twitter Wednesday stating he will ban transgender individuals from serving “in any capacity” in the U.S. armed forces. The implications of the president’s statement could affect military personnel in uniform and thousands of others hoping to serve.
Trump said the military would not “allow or accept” transgender service members, reversing a policy begun by the Obama administration last year. At the time of Trump’s tweet, it wasn’t immediately clear about the status of transgender service members currently in the military.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff, including Chairman General Joseph Dunford, according to CNN reports were blindsided by Trump’s transgender ban. They were adamant in stating they were also unaware of Trump’s plan to tweet about a ban on transgender service members—the latest indication that top military leaders across all four service branches were blindsided by the President’s announcement.
Amid the firestorm in Washington surrounding the Russian probe, Trump’s tweet came less than a month into the six-month delay set by Defense Secretary James Mattis to review the US military’s policy on transgender service members.
“After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military,” Trump wrote in a series of tweets. “Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”
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General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a written message on Thursday to military leaders that there has been no change yet to the military’s policy on transgender personnel, despite plans for a ban announced by President Donald Trump.
“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.”
It wasn’t immediately clear when Trump’s decision might be implemented by the Pentagon.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis is out of Washington on vacation this week, and the Pentagon appeared caught off guard by the president’s tweet. Military officials referred all questions to the White House.
“We will continue to work closely with the White House to address the new guidance provided by the Commander-in-Chief on transgender individuals serving the military,” Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said in a statement. “We will provide revised guidance to the Department in the near future.”
Democrats in Congress and several senior Republicans offered strong support for transgender individuals serving honorably and condemned Trump’s tweet.
“Any American who meets current medical and readiness standards should be allowed to continue serving,” McCain said in a statement. “There is no reason to force service members who are able to fight, train, and deploy to leave the military – regardless of their gender identity.”
McCain said the Defense department is conducting a study on the medical obligations, impact on military readiness and other questions regarding transgender individuals who want to join the military.
“I do not believe that any new policy decision is appropriate until that study is complete and thoroughly reviewed by the Secretary of Defense, our military leadership, and the Congress,” McCain added.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, (R-UT) also announced the president’s opposition.
“I don’t think we should be discriminating against anyone,” he said. “Transgender people are people and deserve the best we can do for them.”
The LGBT community vowed to go to federal court to challenge Trump’s decision on transgender people in uniform.
“We are going to fight for them as hard as they are fighting for the country,” the OutServe-Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a Washington-based group that seeks LGBT equality in the military, said in a statement.
The legal group estimates about 16,000 transgender individuals currently serve in the military. More recently, the Pentagon commissioned a June 2016 RAND Corporation report studying the effects of integrating transgender service members.
Estimates at the time of the study show between 1,320 and 6,630 active duty transgender personnel, and between 830 and 4,160 in the reserves. The midrange estimates were for 2,450 active duty and 1,510 reserve duty service members. Estimates vary widely, from approximately 1,300 to 16,000 members of the armed services who are transgender.
“It is difficult to estimate the number of transgender personnel in the military due to current policies and a lack of empirical data.” Instead, they base their numbers on multiple surveys and estimates. “As a result, much existing research relies on self-reported, nonrepresentative survey samples,” the study notes.
Last July, the Pentagon lifted a long-standing ban against transgender men and women serving openly in the military, removing one of its last discriminatory hurdles and placing protection of gender rights on par with race, religion, color, sex and sexual orientation.
Trump’s announcement reversed a policy announced by then-President Barack Obama in June 2016 that ended the service ban on transgender Americans, which remained in place after Congress repealed the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law for LGBTs in December 2010.
The policy part of the Obama administration’s Force of the Future initiative aimed to make the strait-laced, male-dominated U.S. military more inclusive. In 2015, the administration opened all combat positions to women and in 2016 appointed the first openly homosexual Secretary of the Army, Eric K. Fanning.
By LeNora Millen 07-27-17