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Trump Says Transgender People Can’t Serve In Military

President Trump's tweets reverse a year-old policy set under the Obama administration.
Image credit: Justin Merriman

Reactions are coming in to President Donald Trump’s tweets saying transgender Americans can no longer serve in the military “in any capacity.”

Equality Florida’s Gina Duncan said the president’s tweets have put a target on the backs of transgender. She also took issue with the fact that the decision came through Twitter.

“A decision that is so controversial and impacts so many people and the future of so many people, from their discharge status to their benefits, to have this decided in a series of tweets,” Duncan said.

The Florida Family Policy Institute in Orlando applauded the president’s move, saying it makes “military readiness the priority ahead of radical social experimentation.”

But Brenda Massarella, a transgender Vietnam Veteran living in St. Petersburg, disagrees. She says she could shoot a rifle or drive a truck as good as anybody else.

“It doesn’t matter what you have between your legs,” Massarella said. “If you want to serve your country, you should be able to serve your country.”

Massarella does not, though, believe the government should have to pay for transition surgeries.

President Trump has announced that the government will not allow transgender people to serve in the U.S. military.

In a series of tweets on Wednesday morning, he wrote:

“After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow … Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming … victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you”

Transgender people already serve in the military. It’s not immediately clear how Trump intends to implement the ban, but the Pentagon announced Wednesday that it will defer enlistments by transgender applicants.

“Secretary [James] Mattis today approved a recommendation by the services to defer accessing transgender applicants into the military until Jan. 1, 2018,” Chief Pentagon spokesperson Dana White said in a statement. “The services will review their accession plans and provide input on the impact to the readiness and lethality of our forces.”

In June 2016, then-Secretary of Defense Ash Carter lifted the ban on transgender service members.

As NPR’s Merrit Kennedy reported then, Carter said the key reason for the change was “that 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.”

The move was an acknowledgement of the transgender people already in the military. Carter said Rand Corp. researchers estimated that “about 2,500 people out of approximately 825,000 reserve service members are transgender, with the upper end of their range of estimates of around 7,000 in the active component and 4,000 in the reserves.”

Trump’s announcement will likely be seen as running counter to a tweet he posted in 2016, in which Trump thanked the LGBT community. “I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs,” he pledged.

Much of the early reaction to Trump’s announcement was critical.

The Human Rights Campaign immediately tweeted its disapproval of Trump’s announcement. “Threatening 15K currently serving troops who put their lives at risk is unpatriotic and dangerous,” the LGBTQ rights organization said.

The ACLU put out a call to transgender service members affected by the announcement. “This is an outrageous and desperate action,” the civil liberties union said in a statement. “This has been studied extensively, and the consensus is clear: There are no cost or military readiness drawbacks associated with allowing trans people to fight for their country. The president is trying to score cheap political points on the backs of military personnel who have put their lives on the line for their country.”

“Every patriotic American who is qualified to serve in our military should be able to serve. Full stop,” tweeted former Vice President Joe Biden.

“Quality people in uniform are what make our military the finest fighting force the world has ever seen,” said Ash Carter in a statement. “I continue to maintain that what matters in choosing those who serve is that they are best qualified. To choose service members on other grounds than military qualifications is social policy and has no place in our military. There are already transgender individuals who are serving capably and honorably. This action would also send the wrong signal to a younger generation thinking about military service.”

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican Congresswoman from Florida, tweeted her disapproval: “No American, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity, should be prohibited from honor + privilege of serving our nation #LGBT”

Congressman Ted Lieu, a Democrat from California, released a statement critical of the announcement. “The President’s exclusion of Americans who happen to be transgender from serving in the military is not based on facts, it is based on naked bigotry. I know because I served on active duty. The military doesn’t care what your sexual orientation or identity is, or who you love. It cares about whether you can shoot straight and complete the mission. The President’s discriminatory decision harms our military readiness for our volunteer-based military.”

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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