President Trump’s latest acting Defense Secretary has made comments that refute the Trump administration’s rationale for its transgender military ban.
Trump announced in a tweet on Tuesday that he was naming Mark Esper, the Secretary of the Army, as the new acting Secretary of Defense after the person who previously held the post, Pat Shanahan, dropped out of the confirmation process.
Trump said in a tweet that he had “no doubt” that Esper “will do a fantastic job” in his new role.
….I thank Pat for his outstanding service and will be naming Secretary of the Army, Mark Esper, to be the new Acting Secretary of Defense. I know Mark, and have no doubt he will do a fantastic job!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 18, 2019
But LGBTQ activists were quick to note that Esper has previously gone on record stating that the presence of transgender troops in the military has no detrimental impact on unit cohesion.
During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Esper was questioned by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) about whether rank-and-file soldiers are concerned about serving alongside transgender service members. Esper responded that the issue hasn’t been raised by those serving.
Esper also told CNN host Christiane Amanpour in a recent interview commemorating the 75th anniversary of D-Day that the military accepts transgender applicants if they’re able to serve, telling her: “We look at each individual as they come in” and that “there’s no blanket ban” on transgender applicants.
But several supporters of open military service have jumped on Esper’s response to Amanpour as untruthful, noting that transgender applicants come under more scrutiny than their cisgender counterparts, as they are only allowed to serve if they remain in their biological sex, and cannot be diagnosed with gender dysphoria or attempt to transition while on the job.
“To affirm that the military evaluates transgender individuals ‘like any other person’ is an outright lie,” Aaron Belkin, the director of the Palm Center, which advocates for LGBTQ-inclusive military service, said in a statement. “The military’s transgender ban is a ban, as numerous federal courts have affirmed. Fully fit and fully capable transgender individuals are banned from military service as a result of separate standards that apply only to them, and to no other troops.”
Others point to Esper’s past work for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that opposes open military service, and his work for former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), who blocked the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” when he was in Congress, as reasons for concern.
The LGBTQ media advocacy organization GLAAD noted that Esper chaired the National Security policy subcommittee for the 2008 Republican Platform, which explicitly affirmed “the incompatibility of homosexuality with military service.”
The Modern Military Association of America, the nation’s largest nonprofit organization for LGBTQ military members and veterans, released a statement in response to Esper’s appointment.
“Esper’s past anti-LGBTQ positions and his most recent comments on transgender military service are cause for considerable concern as he is elevated to Acting Secretary of Defense,” said Andy Blevins, the executive director of MMAA. “In this crucially important role, Esper has a solemn responsibility to ensure all of our nation’s service members and their families have the full support they need and deserve — including LGBTQ service members. Considering his deeply troubling past statements, we urge Acting Secretary Esper to clarify his commitment to all military families.”