By Jessica Rosenthal.
Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says there will be no change in policy regarding transgender service members… for now. In a memo to all military branch chiefs he says once Defense Secretary James Mattis gets the President’s direction, then Mattis can issue “implementation guidance.”
Last year under President Obama, transgender service members could serve openly while the military studied how to accommodate transgender recruits.
But Wednesday, President Trump tweeted that transgender people will no long be allowed to serve in the military in any capacity. He wrote the military cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption from transgender military service members.
Former Army Captain James Hasson, who served in Afghanistan, told Fox News Radio, “It definitely would’ve been preferable if this announcement had been made in closer coordination with the Pentagon, and rolled out in a more appropriate manner.” Hasson said the President’s decision is in the best interest of the armed forces and that General Dunford’s memo makes sense. “The Pentagon isn’t defying orders,” Hasson said, “They’re waiting for them.”
People in the transgender community were upset. Philadelphia transgender attorney Henry Sias told Fox News Radio, he represents a transgender army veteran, “he was pretty stunned, and I think a lot of people are pretty stunned because people in the military have been open for a year at this point.” He also questioned the President’s reasoning, “For us to say to them we can’t afford to pay for your healthcare, but we want you to die for us, is so beyond offensive.”
Laila Villanueva is a transgendered retired Army Corporal. She tells Fox News Radio she did two tours in Iraq before transitioning from male to female in 2012. Before that she presented herself as a gay man first working in an intelligence unit, then serving in a medical one. “The leadership I had started with when I started my transition (from male to female), was great, she was understanding and created a safe space for me to allow me to be and do what I needed to do and be the soldier I knew myself to be.” She said her fellow service-members were supportive too. But new leaders took over and by 2015 things weren’t going well. “It created an environment that was very toxic,” she said. And she left the military in 2015.
Villanueva says she doesn’t believe President Trump’s argument that this has to do with healthcare costs, “The military is paying more for acne medication and Viagra than transgender healthcare,” she said. President Trump said the military can’t be burdened by the disruption caused by transgender service-members. Villanueva says they aren’t the disruption,”The mission has not changed, we still do our work. We have service-members serving in vital roles in the military like pilots, air crew members,and security forces, special forces, doctors, medics, JAG officers and attorneys. By removing them from the military it is absolutely disrupting the mission.”
But Hasson, who left the military in 2015, says this isn’t about culture war issues, this is specific to the military, which has specific physical readiness standards. He applauds anyone willing to serve, but notes a man who wouldn’t qualify to serve with men, might qualify to serve with women, based on the requirements. “The fitness standards are designed around biological characteristics of male and female, because they’re created with the idea of how well an individual handles their body weight, which is the essence of military fitness,” Hasson said. “We are essentially divorcing physical readiness characteristics from the physical facts about the people they apply to. It makes it difficult to have an objective standard.”
Estimates of transgender service members vary. A 2016 Rand Corporation study on transgender medical service costs in the military estimated it could be as many as 6,000 members of the military who are transgender. Another estimate is as high 15,000. And not a single one of them knows what’s going to happen as a result of President Trump’s tweet.
The Associated Press contributed to this report