Defending Their Own: Coast Guard Speaks Up After Trump Lashes Out at Transgender Soldiers

Defending Their Own: Coast Guard Speaks Up After Trump Lashes Out at Transgender Soldiers

The Coast Guard has taken a leading role in efforts to push back against President Trump’s plan to ban transgender soldiers from military service. “The first thing we did was reach out to all 13 members of the Coast Guard who are transgender,” said Coast Guard Commandant Paul Zukunft in remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington after Trump announced the ban on Twitter. Zukunft added that the Coast Guard would not “break faith” with transgender soldiers. “We have made an investment in you and you have made an investment in the Coast Guard," he said.

The other four branches of the military have yet to comment on Trump’s plan. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, has announced that that there would 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 guidelines.”

Trump’s proposed ban would reverse the Obama administration’s 2016 decision to allow transgender people to openly serve in the armed forces. Last year, Obama’s defense secretary Ashton Carter prohibited discharging or otherwise separating transgender people from the military solely on the basis of their gender identity.

In early June, the Army, along with the Air Force, requested a two-year delay on accepting transgender recruits; the Navy requested a one-year wait. These requests were rejected by the Pentagon in favor of a six-month delay for all branches. Although most active duty officers had little to say about the proposed ban, many transgender soldiers have been alarmed by Trump’s move.

Wendy May, a genderfluid trans woman and Army veteran who works regularly with soldiers, told The American Prospect that she and others were “appalled” by the president’s plan. She says it is little more than a discriminatory “smokescreen that the White House has used to keep us focused on other things than what we need to focus on.” More than 50 retired senior officers criticized Trump’s plan in a signed joint statement published by the Palm Center, a LGBT military advocacy center, saying that “the proposed ban would degrade readiness even more than the failed ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy” instituted in the mid-1990s.

Trump’s announcement, which he made without consulting top military leaders, came during near-constant coverage of his political and personal gaffes, including all-time low approval ratings, the Scaramucci scandal, and the failure of the Republican efforts to repeal or replace the Affordable Care Act. The ban allows Trump to engage two of his favorite ploys: targeting a controversial minority group and chipping away at Obama’s legacy.

If the announcement was designed to distract Americans from the chaos at the White House, it backfired. The ban only further antagonized Democratic and Republican members of Congress who have pushed back on the president’s plan, while a Quinnipiac University national poll released Tuesday shows that with the exception of Republicans, Americans support transgender military service 68 percent to 22 percent.

Estimates of active duty transgender soldiers range from roughly from 1,300 to 7,000 to about 15,500. Although transgender people comprise a tiny percentage of soldiers, they constitute one of the largest segments of openly transgender Americans.

Trump and others who oppose transgender people serving in the military often point to the high costs of transition-related health care. A RAND Corporation report found that the cost of gender transition-related health care in the military runs between $2.4 million and $8.4 million annually. The report also found that past integration efforts involving women and lesbians, gays, and bisexuals indicated that there would be “a minimal likely impact on force readiness.”

“A year ago, Donald said he was going to support the LGBT community more than Hillary, [but] he has done absolutely nothing but to destroy the ‘T’ part of the community,” May says. “We’ve been treated as completely disposable people by the politicians in Washington.”