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President Trump announced on Wednesday morning that the U.S. military would not “accept or allow” any transgender service members.
In a series of tweets, the commander in chief argued that too much is at stake in the military’s current operations for it to be “burdened” by the medical costs of transgender people or the “disruption” he says transgender service members would cause.
The content of Trump’s statement is at odds with the current Department of Defense policy that was crafted with Armed Services leadership, as well as medical and personnel experts.
From the Defense Department website:
“Transgender service members may serve openly. They may not be discharged or separated from the military solely on the basis of their gender identity.
As with other major presidential announcements from Trump on Twitter, there will likely be extraordinary backlash to this statement from liberal and moderate circles.”
When contacted by Yahoo News, a Pentagon spokesperson said, “Right now we are referring all questions on the tweets to the White House.”
At the Wednesday afternoon press briefing, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about how Trump’s policies would affect current transgender service members.
“That’s something that the Department of Defense and the White House will have to work together [on] as implementation takes place and is done so lawfully,” Sanders said.
She did not provide any additional information when asked whether troops currently serving overseas in the Middle East would be immediately discharged and sent home.
Though Trump’s announcement may feel sudden, there have been rumblings that some officers in the military were not comfortable with the current policy.
Earlier this month, for instance, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis announced that there would be a six-month delay in implementing recruitment policies for transgender Americans so that military chiefs could determine how they would affect the force’s “readiness or lethality.”
Estimates vary concerning the transgender community’s presence in the military. The National Center for Transgender Equality estimates that more than 15,000 transgender individuals are currently serving in the military. But the RAND Corporation, a global policy think tank, puts the figure between 1,320 to 6,630.
According to a RAND study from June 2016, only a subset (between 29 and 129) would pursue treatment related to gender transition each year. The researchers concluded that these treatments would increase health care costs for active-duty service members by $2.4 million and $8.4 million annually — a 0.04- to 0.13-percent increase.
On the campaign trail, Trump reached out to the LGBT community and repeatedly promised to protect them from terrorism.
Trump’s daughter and top adviser Ivanka Trump has also expressed support for the LGBT community in the past.
As expected, backlash to Trump’s announcement was swift.
GLAAD, a prominent LGBTQ advocacy organization, condemned the ban on transgender soldiers as part of “the full-scale attack on LGBTQ Americans by the Trump Administration.”
“President Trump today issued a direct attack on transgender Americans, and his administration will stop at nothing to implement its anti-LGBTQ ideology within our government — even if it means denying some of our bravest Americans the right to serve and protect our nation,” Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and CEO of GLAAD, said in a statement. “Today further exposed President Trump’s overall goal to erase LGBTQ Americans from this nation. Trump has never been a friend to LGBTQ Americans, and this action couldn’t make that any more clear.”
David Dinielli, the deputy legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit specializing in civil rights, released the following statement:
“Thousands upon thousands of transgender people have served and are serving this country with honor and courage. But while these brave men and women risk their lives for all of us, in every corner of the world, 24 hours a day, President Trump tweets out a disgraceful, discriminatory policy — backed by the country’s most extreme anti-LGBT hate groups — that will do nothing to make anyone safer. This policy only serves to throw fuel on the fire of hatred and fear, making an already-vulnerable population even more vulnerable.”
Joshua Block, the senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT & HIV project, called Trump’s action “outrageous and desperate.” He said transgender service members deserve better than a commander-in-chief who “rejects their basic humanity.”
“Let us be clear. This has been studied extensively, and the consensus is clear: There are no cost or military readiness drawbacks associated with allowing trans people to fight for their country,” Block said. “The president is trying to score cheap political points on the backs of military personnel who have put their lives on the line for their country.”
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., released a statement denouncing Trump’s tweets as “yet another example” of why major policy announcements should not be made on Twitter. He said the statement is unclear because it conflicts with current policy.
He added that any person who meets medical and readiness standards should be able to serve.
“We should all be guided by the principle that any American who wants to serve our country and is able to meet the standards should have the opportunity to do so — and should be treated as the patriots they are,” McCain said.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., who has a transgender son, criticized the Trump administration in February for revoking federal guidelines that protected transgender students from discrimination. She spoke out against Trump’s most recent statement as well.
Caitlyn Jenner, a Republican and America’s most famous transgender woman, supported Trump in the presidential election but was disappointed in this latest development.
Trump’s announcement essentially reverses a directive from former President Barack Obama to lift a ban on transgender service members.
Former Defense Secretary Ash Carter, who announced in June 2016 that transgender men and women would be able to serve, released a statement Wednesday saying that he continues to believe that service members should be chosen on the grounds of military qualifications — not the status of their gender identities.
Before becoming Trump’s running mate, Vice President Mike Pence was perhaps best known for his opposition to LGBT rights as governor of Indiana. He was embroiled in a national controversy after signing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in March 2015. According to Pence, the law prohibited any government entity from “substantially burdening” someone’s right to exercise his or her religion. But critics accused Pence of legalizing discrimination against LGBT individuals, something he denied. After tremendous pushback, Pence signed additional legislation the following month to clarify that the bill prohibits discrimination.
On Tuesday, Foreign Press reported that Pence and his staff have been quietly working to undo the Defense Department’s year-old policy of covering medical expenses for procedures for transitioning service members.
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