You’re fired! Trump’s tweets vs. T/G soldiers a bombshell

Staten Island transgender activist Bryan John Ellicott addressed the protest rally at Times Square last week on Wed., July 26. Photos by Christian Miles

BY PAUL SCHINDLER | In a series of three tweets on July 26, President Donald Trump announced his intention to bar transgender Americans from serving openly in the armed forces.

At about 9 a.m. that day, tweeting on his personal account @realDonaldTrump, the president wrote: “After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow……,” then, “…Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming…..,” and finally, .”…victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you.”

The announcement marked a sharp U-turn from the policy announced on June 30 of last year by the Obama administration’s defense secretary, Ash Carter, who said that open service by transgender enlistees would roll out in stages over the following year. When the anti-gay “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was overturned in late 2010, the military spent nearly 10 months preparing for the transition to open service by gay and lesbian service members.

Speaking out during the day of protests.

The first clear sign that the Obama / Carter plan might be turned back came when Defense Secretary Jim Mattis announced on June 30 — one day prior to its planned final implementation — that he was giving military leaders another six months to evaluate how transgender service would affect the “readiness and lethality” of the armed forces.

In recent months, as well, some conservative Republicans on Capitol Hill have tried to block transgender service, suggesting either an outright ban or a prohibition on funds spent on medical expenses for gender-transition-related care. That second idea was recently defeated in a close vote in the House. The measure’s sponsor, Missouri Republican Vicky Hartzler, had claimed that medical costs associated with open transgender service would total $1.35 billion over 10 years.

City Councilmember Corey Johnsonj, who has been a leader of “the resistance,” at the protests on July 26.

In fact, in a study completed last summer, the Rand Corporation, a think tank that works on military-related policy issues, had estimated the annual incremental cost at between $2.4 and $8.4 million annually, a fraction of Hartzler’s claim. Rand estimated that out of 1.3 million service members, there are currently between 1,320 and 6,630 transgender soldiers.

Those personnel presumably are now at risk for harassment and discharge under Trump’s new policy.

The Rand report, commissioned by the Department of Defense, stated that “only a small portion of service members would likely seek gender transition-related medical treatments that would affect their deployability or healthcare costs,” and estimated that each year between 30 and 140 new hormone treatments would be initiated and between 25 and 130 gender transition-related surgeries would be utilized.

Focusing on the question of “readiness,” Rand noted that in 2015 there were 102,500 non-deployable soldiers in the Army alone, 50,000 of them technically in active service, while transgender service would add only 10 to 130 to the number of personnel with reduced deployability.

Who is Trump to say?

Rand reported that 18 nations — including Israel, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia — allow open transgender military service.

Responding to Trump’s tweets, Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, an independent research institute that focuses on issues of sexual minorities in the military, wrote, “The President is creating a worse version of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ 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. As former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen stated yesterday, their service must be respected. The Rand Corporation has estimated that the cost of medical care for transgender troops is approximately one one-hundredth of one percent of the military annual healthcare budget, or at most, $8.4 million per year. To claim otherwise is to lie about the data.”

When he announced the Obama administration’s intention last year to move toward open service, Carter said, “The Defense Department and the military need to avail ourselves of all talent possible in order to remain what we are now — the finest fighting force the world has ever known. We don’t want barriers unrelated to a person’s qualification to serve preventing us from recruiting or retaining the soldier, sailor, airman or marine who can best accomplish the mission. We have to have access to 100 percent of America’s population. Although relatively few in number, we’re talking about talented and trained Americans who are serving their country with honor and distinction.”

Some transgender people actually want to serve in the military — unlike repeat draft dodger Donald Trump.

Trump’s action last week marks the administration’s second attack on the transgender community. In February, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos reversed an Obama administration policy that schools receiving federal funding must protect transgender students from discrimination — including in their access to private facilities like bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity.

Ironically, Trump’s decision to throw red meat to the right last week comes as he is facing criticism from leading conservatives for his attacks on Sessions, whom he is blaming for the continued investigations into Russian interference in the election and any ties to the president’s campaign. Just hours before Trump issued his tweets, the Human Rights Campaign sent out an advisory pointing to an article in Foreign Policy reporting that Vice President Mike Pence has been working with congressional Republicans to block implementation of open transgender service.

Only one word for what’s going on.

What remains unclear in the wake of Trump’s tweets is how they will be received by military personnel who have worked for the past 13 months to implement the changes Carter announced. Mattis’s statement this past June 30, in focusing not on implementation questions but rather on fundamental issues of “readiness and lethality,” suggests that he perhaps was second-guessing decisions already settled by the Defense Department under Secretary Carter. But that is not certain, and it bears keeping in mind that Mattis was on vacation at the time of Trump’s tweets. Also, the Pentagon, when contacted about Trump’s tweets, referred calls to the White House, though a spokesperson said the Department of Defense would “work closely with the White House to address the new guidance provided by the commander-in-chief” and would “provide revised guidance to the Department in the near future.”

How on board with the president “his” generals are on this issue remains an open question. The day after Trump’s tweets, three Defense Department officials told CNN that the joint chiefs of staff had not been informed that the president would make the announcement he did. To the thousands of transgender service members whose futures were suddenly thrown into doubt, General Joseph Dunford, the joint chiefs chairman, assured them there would be “no modifications to the current policy until the president’s direction has been received by the secretary of defense and the secretary has issued implementation guidelines.”

One of the Capitol Hill’s leading authorities on the military, Senator John McCain, who chairs the Armed Services Committee, immediately criticized Trump’s abrupt policy shift offered without any explanation, saying, “The president’s tweet this morning regarding transgender Americans in the military is yet another example of why major policy announcements should not be made via Twitter.”

Resisting you, Donald!

Similarly, Orrin Hatch, a conservative Senate veteran from Utah, told USA Today, “Transgender people are people, and deserve the best we can do for them. I look forward to getting much more information and clarity from our military leaders about the policy the President tweeted today.”

Arguing that transgender Americans already serve in the military and that “excommunicating” them only “weakens our readiness,” Gregory T. Angelo, president of the Log Cabin Republicans, said, “This smacks of politics, pure and simple.”

Democrats, of course, were harsh in condemning Trump’s posture. New York Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic minority leader, said, “We must be clear-eyed about the threats to our civil rights and unified in opposition to any and every attempt to erode them. I will fight tooth and nail against any policy that discriminates against these patriots and erodes the capability of our military.”

Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, cited the ironic historical significance of the day Trump opted to announce his transgender military position. “On this very day in 1948, President Harry Truman signed the executive order desegregating the U.S. military,” she said in a written statement. “Sixty-nine years later, President Trump has chosen this day to unleash a vile and hateful agenda that will blindside thousands of patriotic Americans already serving with honor and bravery… . This morning’s tweets reveal a President with no loyalty to the courageous men and women in uniform who risk their lives to defend our freedoms.”

The military recruiting station in Times Square, on the evening of July 26, became the venue for the first of a series of New York protests against the Trump announcement. The large crowd, that included many politicians and L.G.B.T.Q. activists, like retired Army Captain Sue Fulton, an openly lesbian West Point graduate who is advocacy director for Spart*a, an L.G.B.T.Q. military organization, marched from Times Square to Trump International Hotel at Columbus Circle and then to Trump Tower on Fifth Ave.