A U.S. Army sergeant flies the American flag from the back of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter over southern Kandahar province, Afghanistan. The pilots and crew chiefs fly American flags to present with certificates to service members as part of aviation tradition. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Bryan Lewis)

White House Gives Pentagon Six Months to Create New Trans Military Ban Policy

BY KAREN OCAMB, WASHINGTON BLADE

White House guidance on the transgender military service ban President Trump ordered via tweet July 26 is headed to the Pentagon, as soon as Thursday afternoon or possibly Friday morning, a senior White House source told the Los Angeles Blade.

The Guidance has been boiled down to a 21/2-page memo that directs Defense Sec. Mattis to come up with a policy in six months, stop spending money on transgender-related medical treatment for active duty trans servicemembers and gauges fitness for service based on "deployability"--whether the trans individual can ably serve in a war zone and engage in military exercises or function a ship for months, officials told the Wall Street Journal.

"DoD will provide an update upon receipt of formal guidance," Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Col. Paul Haverstick told The Washington Blade's Chris Johnson. "The Department continues to focus on our mission of defending our nation and on-going operations against our foes, while ensuring all service members are treated with respect."

That guidance was also watered down from the complete ban Trump ordered to one that would allow active duty trans service members to continue serving after even Republicans opposed the policy change. The weakened policy requires that recruitment and the accessions policy be halted (they are now), enlistment contracts not be renewed, promotions result in discharges, and transgender-specific healthcare be prohibited.

At an Aug. 14 news conference, Mattis indicated support for trans service members, noting the United States Armed Forces is "a widely diverse force. We look at E Pluribus Unum on our coins. Out of many, one. They were simply emphasizing on the battlefield we are one team and that's the way we stay."

It has now been widely reported that Mattis quietly intervened to scotch efforts by anti-LGBT Reps. Duncan Hunter and Vicky Hartzler to get a version of the trans ban passed through Congress. Nor did he object when Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said the current policy of open service would remain in effect until it is formally replaced or when Navy Secretary Spencer said "any patriot" should be allowed to serve, echoing other commanders supporting their trans service members.

However, Mattis also noted that the military chain of command requires him to follow orders given by the civilian commander-in-chief. "You all elected -- the American people elected the commander in chief. I -- they didn't elect me. So the commander in chief in our country and our system of government is elected by the people. He has that authority and responsibility. So that was fully within his responsibility," Mattis said.

Mattis flagged that he expected the guidance "very soon," after which "we will study it and come up with what the policy should be."

It is unclear how long it will take to study the guidance and come up with a policy, considering that the Pentagon is already investigating four serious incidents with the Navy involving numerous deaths--raising questions about military readiness in the forward Asian theatre as North Korea continues saber-rattling. Additionally, Trump is sending roughly 4,000 more troops into the 16-year-old war in Afghanistan, while also fighting a war in Iraq, a conflict in Syria and in hotspots like Somalia.

Ignobly, Trump called for unity during his Afghanistan speech as the ban was being prepared. "[All service members] are bound together by common purpose, mutual trust, and selfless devotion to our nation and to each other," Trump said. "Loyalty to our nation demands loyalty to one another. Love for America requires love for all of its people. When we open our hearts to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice, no place for bigotry, and no tolerance for hate."

The White House senior official source -- who spoke to the Blade on condition of anonymity -- said Vice President Mike Pence is the driving force behind the ban. In fact, he has been spearheading the trans ban reinstatement since last May, at the behest of conservative leaders such as Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, and scores of retired anti-LGBT military officers.

"[Trump] makes decisions based upon what he believes is right, but more importantly, what he committed to," Perkins told the Christian Broadcast Network after the tweets. "He's only doing what he committed he would do."

Trump's fear of his evangelical base is more powerful than his promises to the LGBT community, justifying the ban by saying: "It's been a very difficult situation and I think I'm doing a lot of people a favor by coming out and just saying it. As you know, it's been a very complicated issue for the military, it's been a very confusing issue for the military, and I think I'm doing the military a great favor."

Fact check: an estimated 6,000 trans service members have been serving openly without incident since the original ban was lifted by then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter in July 2016, after a year of study and deliberation.

News of the ban prompted the California Legislative LGBT Caucus to introduce a Resolution saying California would protect its own trans service members. California is home to more than 190,000 active and reserve service people on three army bases, seven marine bases, 10 navy bases, six air force bases and five reserve and numerous U.S. Coast Guard bases.

"Trump's decision to ban transgender people from serving in the U.S. military is offensive, misguided, and contrary to our American values," said Assembly member Evan Low (D-Silicon Valley), Chair of the California Legislative LGBT Caucus, after introducing Assembly Joint Resolution 22 on Aug. 23. "The thousands of transgender military service members who have put their lives on the line for our country deserve better. The California Legislative LGBT Caucus stands by our transgender service members and will do everything in our power to prevent further discrimination."

The LGBT Caucus cites a Pentagon-commissioned study by the RAND Corporation that estimated medical care for transgender service members would cost approximately $8 million a year of the Pentagon's $600 billion budget--"compared to $84 million, which the United States military currently spends on Viagra and other erectile dysfunction drugs," the Caucus says in a press release.

"As an American, a veteran and a lesbian--I am deeply troubled by President Trump's recent announcement that transgender people will be banned from military service," said Assembly member Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton). "Americans who love their country and feel a call to duty--in the form of military service--should be lifted up for their courage and sacrifice, rather than pushed out!"

"Military rules and regulations allow trans people to serve their country, and even the commander-in-chief cannot change those via Twitter. Thousands of trans service members on the front lines deserve better from their commander-in-chief. Discrimination doesn't make us safer, but it does exclude those with the desire and talents to serve our country. Their service matters, their lives matters, and the CA LGBT Caucus stands with our trans service-members," said Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), vice chair of the California Legislative LGBT Caucus.

Interestingly, at the end of the resolution, the Caucus notes what could prove to be a wrinkle in Trump's plan. "Resolved, That the Legislature of the State of California calls upon the Governor of California to direct the California National Guard, the California Air National Guard, and the other Armed Forces of the state to take no action that discriminates against transgender service members in enlistment, promotion, or any other aspect of their service, on the basis of their gender identity or expression, unless superseded by federal law, regulation, or formal directive from the United States Department of Defense."

But what happens if and when transgender members of the state National Guard are called up and federalized? Low's office says they are looking into that. AJR 22 will be heard on the Assembly floor in the coming weeks.

Next up are the lawsuits. GLAD and the National Center for Lesbian Rights already filed a"Doe v. Trump" lawsuit on Aug. 9 in federal court in D.C., seeking an injunction against Trump's directive to reinstate a ban. A joint lawsuit from Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN, with lots of amicus briefs, will no doubt be coming soon.

It will be interesting to see if the same outrage demonstrated at Trump's alignment with white supremacists will greet the ban on the patriotic right of transgender Americans to serve their country.

UPDATE: OutServe-SLDN sent out this angry press release moments after the news became public. They intend to file a lawsuit with Lambda Legal as soon as they see and scrutinize the 2.5 page memo:

OutServe-SLDN Condemns White House Purge of Trans Service Members

(WASHINGTON) August 24, 2017 - Breaking faith with top generals and admirals, President Trump's White House will issue guidance to the Department of Defense, per the Wall Street Journal, which would effectively purge anyone found to be transgender from the armed services. This policy would purge thousands of currently serving transgender troops over the coming months and years by denying them reenlistment; threatening to cut off their healthcare; and would make permanent a ban on recruiting transgender troops that was set to expire later this year.

The following can be attributed to OutServe-SLDN Executive Director Matt Thorn:

"The President's order to remove transgender service members from the United States armed forces is nothing less than a purge. He is implementing this purge based on bigotry, motivated by agents of an ideology that has no concern for the national defense, and in blatant disregard of the experience of career officers who spent more than a year developing and implementing the current policy.

It is inconceivable that a man with a demonstrated incompetence in managing the small staff of the White House should have any credibility when it comes to making sound personnel decisions that will effect a fighting force of more than 1.8 million men and women.

We recognize this purge for what it is - a discriminatory attack on the people who have volunteered their lives for the defense of the country. It is arbitrary and capricious, a callous and questionable exercise of constitutional authority which is beneath the dignity of a Commander-in-Chief.

We condemn the actions of the White House in initiating this purge. We condemn the disregard that the President has shown to transgender men and women who wear the uniform. We condemn the intent of any person who would make it the mission of United States military to discriminate against the very citizens they are charged to defend. And we condemn the indifference of any elected official who does not now stand up for both military personnel and the LGBT community by opposing this purge.

OutServe-SLDN along with Lambda Legal will swiftly be filing a lawsuit in federal court to challenge this action."

OutServe-SLDN's legal team will provide any and all advocacy and legal assistance possible to ensure the transgender community is able to openly serve our country in its armed forces.

Individuals seeking assistance may contact the legal department directly at 800-538-7418 or legal@outserve.org.

This article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Blade and is made available in partnership with the National Gay Media Association.
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