President Donald Trump at CPAC 2017, Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr
LGBTQ advocates across the political spectrum are blasting President Trump’s announcement that the U.S. military will not allow transgender people to “serve in any capacity.”
Trump made the announcement earlier Wednesday morning via Twitter, implying that transgender troops would serve as a distraction and affect military readiness and unit cohesion.
“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,” Trump tweeted.
The argument advanced by the president echoes arguments made by social conservatives who have been opposed to transgender individuals serving openly, despite studies showing that medical costs of healthcare for transgender service members would be “negligible” would amount to “little more than a rounding error” in the military’s multi-billion dollar budget. The rationale for excluding transgender service members also mirrors arguments that were used to oppose open service by gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members during the era of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“The President is creating a worse version of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,'” Aaron Belkin, the director of the Palm Center, which advocates for open military service, said in a statement. “As we know from the sad history of that discredited policy, discrimination harms military readiness. This is a shocking and ignorant attack on our military and on transgender troops who have been serving honorably and effectively for the past year.”
Belkin also noted that the Rand Corporation has estimated the cost of medical care for transgender troops to be one one-hundredth of 1 percent of the military annual health care budget, or, at most, $8.4 million per year, adding that “to claim otherwise is to lie about data.”
Other advocates accused Trump of caving to political pressure from social conservatives or attempting to pander to anti-LGBTQ elements or opponents of “political correctness” within the Republican Party base.
“This smacks of politics, pure and simple,” Log Cabin Republicans President Gregory T. Angelo said in a statement. “The United States military already includes transgender individuals who protect our freedom day in and day out. Excommunicating transgender soldiers only weakens our readiness; it doesn’t strengthen it.
“The president’s statement this morning does a disservice to transgender military personnel and reintroduces the same hurtful stereotypes conjured when openly gay men and women were barred from service during the military’s ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ era,” Angelo added. “As an organization that led the charge against that hateful policy, Log Cabin Republicans remains equally committed to standing up for transgender military personnel who put their lives on the line to keep us free.”
Members of the Democratic National Committee, including National Finance Chair Henry Muñoz, LGBT Caucus Chair Earl Fowlkes, and Treasurer Bill Derrough, who was previously prevented from serving as a military officer because he was openly gay, called the president’s decision “cowardly.”
“Right at this moment, around the world, brave transgender service members are protecting the American people — including Donald Trump and Mike Pence. While the White House claims to be celebrating ‘American Heroes’ week, the president and vice president are shoving real American patriots back in the closet and putting our nation’s security at risk,” the trio said in an official statement on behalf of the DNC.
“Donald Trump said he would protect LGBTQ people, but today’s decision to ban transgender Americans from serving in the military proves his promise was another bald-faced lie,” they added. “Democrats stand with the transgender community and we will fight this administration’s bigotry tooth-and-nail. Those who defend our right to live freely should be able to serve freely.”
Earlier this month, the Pentagon announced it was delaying by 6 months the deadline by which it would begin allowing out transgender individuals to enlist as new recruits. That decision came in response to requests for additional time from leaders of the various service branches.
Yet U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis seemed determined to move forward with implementing the policy once it was determined, at some point in the future, that the services were prepared and ready to begin accepting those recruits.
Trump’s announcement resolves that delay by prohibiting new transgender recruits. However, it is less clear what will happen to those transgender service members who are already serving openly, and whether they will continue to have their transition-related medical care covered.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Defense said the department was referring all questions regarding the new policy to the White House, and would release a statement outlining the specifics once the White House issued its guidance.
According to Foreign Policy, Vice President Mike Pence has been working with members of Congress to introduce three separate but identical amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act that would prohibit the use of taxpayer money to provide transition-related care to active duty transgender service members.
One of those amendments, proposed by U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) was recently rejected by the House when 24 Republicans voted with Democrats to oppose adding it to the final defense bill.
The White House did not immediately respond to an inquiry asking how the ban applies to active duty transgender service members.
Nonetheless, advocates pointed to Trump’s decree as evidence that he cannot be trusted to be an ally of the LGBTQ community.
“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.”