Local leaders lambaste Trump’s ban on transgender soldiers

AP Photo/Alex Brandon

EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – President Trump announced this morning that a ban on transgender individuals serving in the military is being reinstated, prompting some angry reactions from lawmakers and veterans’ advocates.

The president made the announcement in a series of tweets posted shortly before 9 a.m., explaining that he had made the decision after consulting with senior military officials.

(Via Twitter)

“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,” Trump said. “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.”

Reaction was fast and furious from local Democrats.

Congressman David Cicilline called the move “a political stunt” in a statement:

The President’s action today is despicable. A White House official has already acknowledged that this is nothing more than a political stunt to hurt Democrats in the Midwest.  There are thousands of transgender people serving in the Armed Forces. They are heroes. They deserve our thanks. They don’t deserve to be used as political props by their commander-in-chief. Democrats have spent the past week outlining A Better Deal that will help all Americans with better jobs, better wages, and a better future. It’s sad that this is all President Trump has to offer as an alternative.

Senator Jack Reed, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the decision “a retreat in the march toward equality.”

Today, on the anniversary of President Harry Truman’s order desegregating the United States Armed Forces, President Trump is choosing to retreat in the march toward equality. This was a divisive political move that exposes the President’s lack of faith in the professionalism of our Armed Forces. In the land of the free and the home of the brave, every American who is brave enough to serve their country should be free to do so. We want the best of the best — people who will make our military stronger and more effective in every facet of warfighting.  This discriminatory policy denies Americans, no matter how skilled and qualified they are, the opportunity to serve. Our troops deserve better, our nation deserves better.  The President should look at the facts and reverse this decision.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse termed it a “return to discrimination” on Twitter:

In a statement Wednesday, Whitehouse also said:

“Once again, when President ‎Trump fears the news on Russia or other scandals, he changes the subject, lashing out at a group he sees as vulnerable. But this move to reinstate discrimination in our armed services is an attack on the brave LGBT Americans who already serve with distinction. Their selflessness is not disruptive or a burden; it’s American. Our fighting forces should seek to recruit the best and brightest America has to offer, based on talent and mission readiness, not on fear and bias.”

Congressman Jim Langevin, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said Trump was “materially harming our national security” with the decision:

I am appalled by the President’s tweets early this morning, which dishonor the transgender servicemembers who are already protecting our country here at home and around the world. To wear the uniform is a noble endeavor and a true expression of love for one’s country. The President has casually cast aside the sacrifices transgender individuals have made and will continue to make, displaying an utter lack of respect for our armed forces and materially harming our national security in the process. If the Department of Defense is to issue any “revised guidance,” it must treat our transgender servicemembers with the same respect and dignity we afford each and every person within our ranks. To do otherwise is discriminatory and unjust.

On the Republican side, state Rep. Bobby Nardolillo, who is running against Senator Whitehouse in the next election, also disagreed with the decision. “I proudly stand in support of the LGBT community,” he said. “I was disappointed to hear of the President’s decision today. These individuals put their lives on the line for our freedoms, and love of our country. We should be celebrating their dedication, not discriminating. Anyone who puts their life on the line for our country is a hero in my eyes.”

Rhode Island Director of the Office of Veterans Affairs Kasim Yarn weighed in, saying that the ban “presents a barrier to overall force readiness.”

“It is an absolute outrage that President Trump is calling for the ban of transgender people in our military, and that he would be so cavalier as to ‘tweet’ this policy reversal,” Rhode Island’s Democratic Party Chairman Joseph McNamara wrote in a statement to Eyewitness News. “Trump’s statement that transgender Americans will not be allowed to serve ‘in any capacity’ is absurd and discriminatory on its face. Love of country is not affected by gender identity, nor should it be hailed as a marker for who is patriotic or best qualified to serve this nation,” he said.

Gus Bickford, Chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, also slammed Trump in a statement:

“Today, the President made it clear that his conservative culture war is more important to him than our military’s strength,” Bickford said. “The President’s abhorrent stance on transgender Americans serving our country in the armed forces makes our country less safe. President Trump is peddling hatred and promoting myths about the brave transgender service members who are currently protecting the American people – including the President himself.”

Massachusetts Congressman Joseph Kennedy III, who Chairs the Congressional Transgender Equality Task Force, said in part:

Today the President of our United States looked American soldiers in the eye and dared to question their patriotism – their courage. He doubted their commitment to their brothers and sisters in uniform. He said that our military couldn’t or wouldn’t stand for all of us. To the thousands of brave transgender men and women serving today: please know that this grateful nation does not take your service and your patriotism for granted. You deserve better from your president. You deserve better from your country.

Transgender people had previously been banned from openly serving in the United States military, a decision which was overturned last year by former Defense Secretary Ash Carter. Carter gave the Pentagon a year to sort out procedures for accepting transgender recruits, but last month current Defense Secretary James Mattis extended that deadline by another six months to determine what effects the new policies would have on military readiness.

Col. Peter Parente, a spokesman for the Rhode Island National Guard, provided the following statement:

The Rhode Island National Guard is aware of the President’s message today regarding Transgender personnel in the military but has not received any official guidance on a policy shift or change. If there are any official changes to the current Transgender Policy, our organization will implement those changes. The Department of Defense is currently assessing the message from the White House to determine its impact on current and future policy.

A RAND Corporation study released last year estimated that there are between 2,500 and 7,000 transgender service members on active duty without approximately another 1,500 to 4,000 in the reserve forces. The study also concluded that “the cost of extending gender transition–related health care coverage to transgender personnel indicated that active-component health care costs would increase by between $2.4 million and $8.4 million annually, representing a 0.04- to 0.13-percent increase in active-component health care expenditures.”

Senator John McCain, Chairman of the Armed Service Committee, is one of the few Republican lawmakers to publicly oppose the decision so far, writing in a statement that “major policy announcements should not be made on Twitter.” McCain said that any such major policy decision should be thoroughly reviewed by Mattis, military leadership, and Congress.