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Trump administration releases Guidance Policy implementing transgender troop ban

Meanwhile, Congressional Democrats including VA Rep Donald McEachin send an open letter to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis calling the policy "unconstitutional."

Marilyn Drew Necci | August 7, 2017

When Donald Trump tweeted on Wednesday, July 26 that “the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military,” it was a bombshell for the LGBTQ community. However, it was also just a tweet. Which is to say that, while the President can use modern social media services to make his thoughts and decisions known instantaneously all over the world, he also still has to follow some sort of procedure in order to turn those thoughts into binding government policy.

Unfortunately, he has now taken the next step in order to do so. While the president is currently on vacation, his administration has continued progress on making Trump’s heavy-handed social media decree the binding law of the land. The White House Counsel’s office put together an official guidance policy for implementation of the ban on transgender troops, and it was approved by Trump for delivery to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis this past Friday night.

Mattis was “appalled” by Trump’s initial tweets last week, according to a New York Times report. Then on Friday, around the same time that Trump’s “Guidance Policy For Open Transgender Service Phase Out” was released, Mattis released a “Memorandum For All Department Of Defense Employees” which, while not explicitly mentioning transgender soldiers, reminded those under his command that Department Of Defense employees are to set “an honorable example in all we do.” Trump’s policy had in no way forbidden harassment of active duty transgender service members, so Mattis’s memo seems an attempt to caution members of the military against overstepping bounds of ethical conduct towards those members, regardless of their eventual destination.

Mattis stopped short of complying with an open letter sent to both he and Joint Chiefs Of Staff Chairman General Joseph F. Dunford Jr by 53 Democratic members of Congress including VA Representative Donald McEachin, all of whom are members of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), Judiciary Committee, or the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus. The letter urges Mattis and Dunford not to comply with any “unconstitutional directive” issued by the Trump administration, implying that the current guidance policy will eventually be found unlawful. “Federal court decisions have recognized that under our Constitution transgender people are protected against discrimination on the basis of sex–like everyone else–as well as on the basis of their transgender status,” the letter went on to say.

Congressional Democrats are not the only US legislators who’ve pushed back against Trump’s trans military ban. Back when the tweets were first posted, John McCain, who is currently the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and of course has a well-known record of US military participation and involvement, released a statement opposing the ban. “Any American who meets current medical and readiness standards should be allowed to continue serving,” McCain said. “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.”

Both McCain and the Democratic legislators urged Trump to hold off on any future policy decisions until such a time as a study of the military’s medical obligations for transgender service members could be completed. Such a study is currently underway, on a six-month timeline, due to wrap up around the end of 2017. Which raises the inevitable question: why did Trump rush it? For a president who ran on campaign promises to protect LGBT rights (promises he’s already done a bad job of keeping), this sudden decree can’t be seen as consistent with promises made during happier times.

However, a Politico report sheds light on what might have been going on behind the scenes that led Trump to his sudden tweetstorm. Apparently, a House Of Representatives bill that would appropriate money to fulfill a number of Trump’s campaign promises, notably the promise to build a border wall between the United States and Mexico, was endangered by a fight between far-right Republicans and the more moderate GOP representatives over whether or not to cover gender reassignment surgery for active-duty troops.

When Trump was informed of the possible defeat for the appropriations near and dear to his heart, he reacted decisively, issuing the fateful tweets banning all transgender service members. House Republicans were a bit taken aback by the extremity of the decision, which went a good deal farther than they’d asked the president to go. “This is like someone told the White House to light a candle on the table and the White House set the whole table on fire,” a senior House Republican aide told Politico.

So there you have it–xenophobic policies directed against a supposed threat from the country across our southern border seems to, um, trump any concern over allowing capable members of the military to serve openly with honor. No doubt some of us saw this coming, but that doesn’t make it any nicer when it gets here.

As for the 15,000 transgender service members currently on active duty, what will happen to them is not completely known, as Trump’s guidance policy has not as yet been made public. However, a source told the Washington Blade that “the administration wants to get rid of transgender service members as fast as they can.” This means encouraging early retirement, removal of enlisted personnel once their current contracts are up, and firing of transgender officers who are up for promotions. Whether or not any current active duty personnel will receive often-damaging less-than-honorable discharges, as thousands of LGBTQ veterans did under the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy, is not known yet. It’s certainly not outside the realm of possibility though, especially in light of past events.

GayRVA will continue to keep track of this still-developing story, and we’ll keep you posted on any updates. In the meantime, if any active-duty service members who are transgender would be interested in speaking with us on this issue, please get in touch by emailing drew@gayrva.com. We want to ensure that your voices are heard and your experiences are documented.