White House Stands by Trump Plan to Ban Transgender People From Serving in U.S. Military

Donald Trump G20 Hamburg Summit Day 1 - Getty - H 2017
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He said the U.S. government "cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail."

In a series of tweets Wednesday morning, President Donald Trump said the U.S. government will not allow transgender people to "serve in any capacity" in the U.S. military.

Trump said this was because of the burden of "tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender [people] in the military would entail."

His full statement via tweets: "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"

It is not clear how Trump plans to implement this ban, considering transgender people already serve in the military. CNN is reporting that the White House press office did not know in advance this announcement was coming.

In a White House press briefing, Sarah Huckabee Sanders answered questions about Trump's announcement. When asked what will happen to active transgender service members and whether they will be kicked out Sanders said, "That's something the Department of Defense and the White House will have to work together as implementation takes place and is done so lawfully." She added that she imagines the Department of Defense will "take the lead on that."

Sanders said Trump wants to "support all Americans at all times" but defended his decision as a "military decision." She repeatedly stressed that Trump's national security team counseled him on the topic. Sanders was asked why the Pentagon seemed to be surprised by Trump's announcement, she said the Secretary of Defense was informed of Trump's decision, which he made yesterday. Sanders seemed to get frustrated by the repeated questions about the ban and said this was about "military readiness and unit cohesion" and that if she was continued to be asked about the topic she would end the press conference.

In 2016, the Pentagon lifted a ban on transgender service members. The current Department of Defense policy states that transgender service members "can no longer be discharged or otherwise separated from the military solely for being transgender individuals." Transgender service members have been able to receive medical care since Oct. 1, 2016, and could formally change their gender identifications in the Pentagon's system. In June, the Pentagon announced a delay in the full implementation of the Obama-era policy, which allows transgender individuals to enlist openly.

A RAND Corp. study from 2016 estimated that there are about 1,320 to 6,630 transgender personnel in active duty, with between 830 to 4,160 in the reserves. The study observed that the monetary costs of allowing transgender people to openly serve would likely be low, estimating that annually, only 29 to 129 active service members would seek care disrupting their ability to deploy. "Even upper-bound estimates indicate that less than 0.1% of the total force would seek transition-related care that could disrupt their ability to deploy," the report reads.

Laverne Cox released a statement to The Hollywood Reporter saying, "I have met many transgender Americans over the years who have served or are currently serving our country in the military. I have heard from them humiliating stories of being misgendered and experiencing various kinds of mistreatment when they are willing to put their lives on the line in ways many of us would never do including our current President. This latest reversal of another Obama administration policy continues to send the message to trans Americans that our lives, our safety and service are less valuable and unwanted in this country, the country I love and hold so dear. Let's all come together and send the message to trans Americans that despite what this president and administration proclaims that trans lives, safety and service are valuable, that they matter."

Caitlyn Jenner wrote on Twitter: "There are 15,000 patriotic transgender Americans in the US military fighting for all of us. What happened to your promise to fight for them?"

GLAAD was quick to slam Trump's announcement. "President Trump today issued a direct attack on transgender Americans, and his administration will stop at nothing to implement its anti-LGBTQ ideology within our government — even if it means denying some of our bravest Americans the right to serve and protect our nation," said GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis. "Today further exposed President Trump's overall goal to erase LGBTQ Americans from this nation. Trump has never been a friend to LGBTQ Americans, and this action couldn't make that any more clear."

The ACLU called Trump's announcement of a ban an "outrageous and desperate action." Its statement continued, "The thousands of transgender service members serving on the front lines for this country deserve better than a commander-in-chief who rejects their basic humanity."

The organization called on service members to contact them in response to the ban. "Let us be clear. 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. There is no basis for turning trans people away from our military and the ACLU is examining all of our options on how to fight this. For any trans service member affected by today"s announcement: Please get in touch with us, because we want to hear from you."

The Pentagon is referring all questions about Trump's announcement to the White House, and the White House has yet to release an official statement. "We will continue to work closely with the White House to address the new guidance provided by the commander-in-chief on transgender individuals serving in the military," Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis told ABC News. "We will provide revised guidance to the Department in the near future."

The reaction on social media was swift as celebrities, politicians and journalists shared their opinion about the ban. Many Twitter users, including The Daily Show and Alyssa Milano, pointed to Trump's tweet in June 2016 when he thanked the LGBT community and said, "I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs." 

Chelsea Manning, the transgender activist and who spent seven years in prison for leaking classified documents before being pardoned by Obama, was among those who took to social media to react. (See the full list here.)