Metro Weekly

Former Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff: Transgender ban hurts military readiness

Mike Mullen also says transgender service members are entitled to the medical care they've earned

Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – Photo: Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley, via Wikimedia.

“Just as gay and lesbian soldiers should not have to lie about who they are to serve, nor should transgender soldiers.”

–Retired Admiral Michael Mullen, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, in a declaration submitted to the court in a lawsuit brought by Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN challenging President Trump’s ban on transgender service members. That lawsuit is one of two challenging the proposed ban on the grounds that it discriminates against a class of individuals and violates transgender service members’ First Amendment right to freedom of expression.

Noting that he is writing on behalf of himself and not an expert witness, Mullen nonetheless draws direct comparisons between the transgender ban and the now-defunct “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that prohibited gays, lesbians, and bisexuals from serving openly. Mullen calls on his experience as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs during the time when the Obama administration was seeking to repeal the policy to draw these parallels.

“In my 2010 testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee regarding DADT…I stated, ‘It is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do,'” Mullen writes. “I also testified that ‘no matter how I look at the issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.’ This is still my opinion.”

Mullen defends the process of “thorough research and evaluation” that Obama Secretary of Defense Ash Carter went through in order to determine if the military could successfully integrate transgender troops without harming unit morale or military readiness. He says he agrees with Carter’s conclusions and eventual decision to end the ban on open service by transgender service members who were already serving, which took effect in July 2016.

“To reverse this policy…would go against the best interests of thousands of service members currently serving. As the Pentagon has pointed out, it may also deprive our military of trained and skilled service members and leave vacancies that may not be easy to fill,” Mullen continues. “This would harm military readiness as well as morale. The military’s prior considered judgment on this matter should not be disregarded and we should not breach the faith of service members who defend our freedoms, including those who are transgender.”

He also indirectly criticizes attempts by Republicans to justify refusing to cover medically necessary care or provide medical benefits that service members have earned. Earlier this year, U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) attempted to introduce an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would have prevented the military from using taxpayer dollars to pay for hormones or gender confirmation surgeries for transgender individuals.

“When I led our armed forces under DADT, I saw firsthand the harm to readiness and morale when we fail to treat all service members according to the same standards,” Mullen concludes. “There are thousands of transgender Americans currently serving and there is no reason to single them out to exclude them or deny them the medical care that they require.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com