WASHINGTON — Lawmakers are urging Defense Secretary James Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford to not comply with President Trump’s directive to expel transgender service members, arguing that’s an unconstitutional order.
In a letter today, dozens of Democrats from the House Armed Services Committee, House Judiciary Committee, and the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus rejected “the premise that the presence of transgender troops interferes with the morale or combat readiness of our armed forces.”
“As Members of Congress with an abiding interest in our nation’s military and its policies towards the LGBTQ community, we write to not only express our strong opposition to President Trump’s recent tweets seeking to ban transgender individuals from the military, but to remind you not to comply with any unconstitutional directive which may ultimately be issued,” states the letter.
On July 26, Trump tweeted: “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.”
Dunford stated after Trump’s trio of tweets that “there will 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 guidance.” Mattis, who had maintained the policy of allowing existing transgender service members to serve openly but had recently extended the review period to study policy for admitting new transgender service members, was on vacation when Trump issued the tweets.
Coast Guard Commandant Paul Zukunft pledged in a forum this week at the Center for Strategic and International Studies that he will not turn his back on transgender personnel. “We have made an investment in you and you have made an investment in the Coast Guard, and I will not break faith,” he said.
In their letter, House Dems noted that “federal court decisions have recognized that under our Constitution transgender people are protected against discrimination on the basis of sex – like everyone else – as well as on the basis of their transgender status,” and “it is abundantly clear that any effort by President Trump to ban military service by transgender individuals would not only constitute poor policy, but would be unconstitutional on its face.”
They added that the lengthy study conducted by RAND Corp. before the Pentagon allowed transgender troops was a “thoughtful deliberative process” while Trump’s policy “was derived from a series of arbitrary and capriciously issued tweets” and “appears to be based on a raw political calculation.”
“The proposed ban categorically excludes an entire group of people from military service on the basis of a characteristic that has no relevance to their capacity to serve,” the letter continues. “As the respected leaders of our brave armed service members, you have no obligation to implement a hastily considered tweet designed to serve as a ‘wedge’ political issue; but rather you should honor your own independent duty to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
“We believe any serious or credible review of the law and the facts in the present case make it clear that the president’s proposed ban on transgender people serving in the armed forces will weaken, not strengthen our military, and is blatantly unconstitutional.”
In a statement, House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-Wash.), House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus co-chairman David Cicilline (D-R.I.) called Trump’s decision “yet another troubling sign of his willingness to make impulsive policy decisions while ignoring military leadership.”
“We appreciated the measured response of Secretary Mattis, General Dunford and other military leaders in response to President Trump’s rash announcement of a proposed discriminatory and unjustified ban on military service by transgender individuals,” they added. “We would urge President Trump to stop making policy via Twitter and to consult America’s professional military leadership before making decisions that affect the lives and safety of our citizens.”
In a Military Times poll conducted last year, 47 percent of active-duty service members surveyed said they believed allowing transgender troops to serve openly would have little effect on their unit readiness, while 41 percent thought it would be detrimental to units and 12 percent thought the change would be beneficial.
Transgender service members told the paper that they are determined to fight for their jobs and fight for their country. “I have never described myself as trans; I’m a mother—-ing Marine,” a Marine military police officer who is a transgender man and served two deployments told the Military Times. “That‘s all that matters. Don’t tarnish my title with your bigotry and fear of the unknown.”
A week ago, 44 senators wrote to Mattis urging the Defense secretary to talk Trump out of a ban, and requesting “that, at a minimum, you do not separate any service member due to the person’s gender identity until you have completed the assessment that you announced on June 30, have reported back to Congress about any challenges that you foresee in the accession and retention of transgender troops, and determined the Department is unable to mitigate these challenges.”
“It will harm morale in the military as service members see their brothers and sisters in arms – some of whom are currently forward deployed – thrown out simply because of their identity,” wrote the senators led by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), including Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). “And the uncertainty associated with making policy this way is already harming our military readiness and morale, as transgender service members and their superiors struggle to make sense of the policy and what it means for them today and tomorrow.”