Washington (AFP) - The head of the US Coast Guard said Tuesday he would not "break faith" with transgender personnel, after President Donald Trump said they would be banned from the military.
In a series of three tweets last week, Trump upended an Obama-era policy of more than a year that allowed transgender troops to serve openly.
His tweeted announcement came with little or no coordination with the Pentagon and landed while Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was on vacation, leaving the astonished department scrambling to come up with a coherent response.
Speaking at a Washington think tank, Admiral Paul Zukunft, who is the commandant of the Coast Guard, said the service had reached out to the 13 Coast Guardsmen who have come out as transgender.
"Very small numbers, but all of them are doing meaningful Coast Guard work today," he said.
The Coast Guard is a branch of the military and generally follows the Department of Defense on personnel matters.
Zukunft said he had read a story in The Washington Post about a young lieutenant who had undergone gender reassignment surgery and was worried about Trump's tweets that transgender troops would not be allowed to serve "in any capacity" in the military.
"I reached out personally to Lieutenant Taylor Miller, who was featured on the cover of The Washington Post last week," Zukunft told the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"Taylor's family has disowned her. Her family is the United States Coast Guard. And I told Taylor, 'I will not turn my back. We have made an investment in you, and you have made an investment in the Coast Guard, and I will not break faith.' So that is the commitment to our people right now."
- Pentagon awaits guidance -
When asked whether Zukunft's comments meant the Coast Guard would disregard Trump's tweets, spokeswoman Lisa Novak told AFP: "Those comments are made by the commandant, and those are his own comments."
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she had not yet heard Zukunft's remarks.
"I know that the goal is to work with all of the relevant departments, primarily the Department of Defense, to lawfully implement that new policy," she said.
In a statement, the Coast Guard said it "follows closely with the DOD on human resources policies. We are currently in contact with them on how those policies may be effected."
Zukunft added that the Coast Guard had stood up a team of military lawyers following Trump's tweets.
In the six days since Trump's tweets, the White House has still not provided the Pentagon with clear directives on how it should implement a transgender ban, so the current policy remains in place for now.
The Pentagon has not been able to say whether Mattis was even consulted about the ban ahead of time or merely informed after the decision was made.
Meanwhile, the Palm Center think tank, which focuses on sexual minorities in the military, published a statement signed by 56 retired generals and admirals.
"This proposed ban, if implemented, would cause significant disruptions, deprive the military of mission-critical talent, and compromise the integrity of transgender troops who would be forced to live a lie, as well as non-transgender peers who would be forced to choose between reporting their comrades or disobeying policy," the statement read.