The US government and the White House seem clueless as to the implementation of Trump’s unexpected reinstatement of the ban on transgender military personnel.
On Wednesday, the president announced on Twitter that “the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military”.
This comes just over a year after the ban was lifted, and leaves thousands of transgender military staff members in fear of their livelihood.
Trump’s announcement appears to have come as a surprise to his own administration and military officials who have been unable to explain the practical implications of his decision.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders could not give clarity to journalists who asked if personnel would be fired because of being openly transgender.
“That’s something that the Department of Defense and the White House will have to work together as implementation takes place and is done so lawfully,” Sanders said.
She confirmed that the secretary of defense and the rest of the national security team were only informed after Trump made his decision on social media.
The Pentagon in turn told reporters to “call the White House” for details on the renewed ban. The Department of Defense is yet to officially comment on the news.
The decision has been widely slammed by politicians, activists and celebrities as unjustified, irrational and dangerous. While Trump claimed that the move was based on the medical costs associated with transgender personnel, studies have shown that these would be negligible. (In fact, the Pentagon currently spends more than ten times what it would spend on transgender medical costs in order to provide Viagra to its staff.)
Instead, critics say Trump is using the issue to curry favour with conservatives, regardless of the implications on transgender troops and on the military.
OutServe-SLDN, which represents LGBT service members, slammed the policy change, describing Trump’s financial justification as “a red herring”.
Out-Serve-SLDN’s CEO Matt Thorn said: “The impact of this decision will be a decline in military readiness and a decrease in the ability of America’s fighting force to defend the nation.”
Thorn added: “The president’s apparently unilateral decision, seemingly developed and announced with no involvement from the nation’s military leadership, is discriminatory and wrong. We owe the brave transgender service members who defend our country nothing less than the full measure of our respect for the service they dedicate to our nation.”
Transgender celebrities like Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox were among those to speak out. Jenner, who has been a supporter of Trump, was taken aback at the news. She tweeted to the president: “There are 15,000 patriotic transgender Americans in the US military fighting for all of us. What happened to your promise to fight for them?”
She quoted a June 2016 election campaign tweet from Trump in which he wrote: “Thank you to the LGBT community! I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs.”
Caitlyn went on to tell Trump: “America’s 15,000 trans service members and 134,000 veterans are much braver than you, Mr. Trump; my allegiance is with them and our country, not you.”
Cox added in a statement: “This latest reversal of another Obama administration policy continues to send the message to trans Americans that our lives, our safety and service are less valuable and unwanted in this country, the country I love and hold so dear.
“Let’s all come together and send the message to trans Americans that despite what this president and administration proclaims that trans lives, safety and service are valuable, that they matter,” she said.
Even Republican leaders like Senator John McCain, who is Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, criticised the move.
“There is no reason to force service members who are able to fight, train, and deploy to leave the military – regardless of their gender identity,” he said in a statement. “We should all be guided by the principle that any American who wants to serve our country and is able to meet the standards should have the opportunity to do so – and should be treated as the patriots they are.”
OutServe-SLDN said that if Trump’s decision was implemented it and other rights organisations would “take immediate legal action to protect transgender service members and recruits”.