The Republican governor of Massachusetts is bucking President Trump’s current policy barring transgender individuals from serving in the U.S. military.
On Monday, Gov. Charlie Baker become the first GOP governor to publicly criticize the revised transgender ban that went into effect in April.
Under the current policy, transgender people are barred from serving unless they don’t acknowledge their gender identity, do not attempt to physically transition, and adhere to physical and grooming standards based on their assigned sex at birth.
“I think anybody who wants to serve their country and put themselves in harm’s way should be commended and given the opportunity to serve,” Baker said.
Baker, who has been supportive of LGBTQ rights throughout his career, had previously come under pressure from a group of 65 Democratic lawmakers in heavily Democratic Massachusetts.
The lawmaker wrote a letter to Baker on June 11 demanding that he allow transgender people to serve in the Massachusetts National Guard, despite the Trump administration’s ban, reports The Republican, a newspaper based in Springfield, Mass.
Each state has its own National Guard, which is controlled by the governor of that state. Democratic governors in California, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Washington State, New Jersey, and Colorado have all said their National Guards will continue accepting transgender soldiers.
“President Trump’s recently implemented military policy is a step backwards in that it discriminates against an entire class of people based on their gender transition,” the Democratic lawmakers wrote. “It has no place in Massachusetts and diminishes the strength of the National Guard.”
The lawmakers asked Baker to publicly reaffirm his support for transgender service, writing: “Here in the Commonwealth, we believe that anyone who is qualified and capable to serve should have the opportunity to do so and that no soldier should be treated any differently today because of who they are.”
The letter is co-signed by the Massachusetts General Assembly’s LGBTQ Caucus, and written in coordination with the Massachusetts-based GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, which is representing some of the transgender plaintiffs suing the federal government over the ban.
Despite reaffirming his belief that transgender individuals should be allowed to serve, Baker appears to be exercising caution before he takes action.
He told The Republican that his office has been in talks with Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s office to see “what options are available to us.”
Healey has previously filed court briefs in multiple lawsuits challenging the transgender ban. In one, she joined more than a dozen other attorneys general to argue that the ban is not only unconstitutional, but runs counter to states’ best interest in a strong national defense and in the promotion of LGBTQ equality if transgender people continue to be barred from serving.
Jennifer Levi, the director of the Transgender Rights Project at GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, said that because state governors are responsible for setting National Guard policy, Baker is perfectly within his rights to reject Trump’s transgender ban.
“There is no basis for either excluding from service or discharging people who can meet the strict criteria for joining the National Guard, and the National Guard is weakened and undermined by a policy that excludes fit, highly qualified people from serving,” Levi said in a statement.
Sen. Eric Lesser (D-Longmeadow), one of the lawmakers leading the coalition behind the letter to Baker, reiterated his call for Baker to defy the ban.
“These troops have their comrades’ backs just like every other member of the Nation’s First [the Massachusetts National Guard]. They are willing to fight to protect us, they are willing to die for us. The least we can do is have their backs so that they can continue to do the job they signed up to do,” Lesser said. “We are talking about military families who have been thrown into uncertainty, who may have moved for deployment but could be discharged on a moment’s notice. This is all because of President Trump’s cruel ban that ignores the advice of his top generals.”
“The most important thing is that the Commonwealth reaffirms our support for our transgender neighbors, friends and family members in every sphere of our lives, including in the military and public service sectors,” added State Rep. Mindy Domb (D-Amherst), another signatory. “The Trump Administration’s hateful policies give us an opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to all Massachusetts residents. Massachusetts can step up, and I urge the Governor to do so.”