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President Trump tweeted on Wednesday that transgender people cannot "serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military," repeating a claim from conservative Republicans that transgender service members disrupt the ranks and add medical costs that undermine troop readiness.
Trump made the announcement in a series of tweets:
It's unclear what impact his decision has on transgender people currently serving in the armed forces. The announcement came on the 69th anniversary of Executive Order 9981, when President Harry Truman signed ending racial discrimination in the US military.
“The full implications of that tweet are to be determined. My read of it is that appears that those currently serving transgender troops will be forced out,” Brad Carson, the Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness from 2015-16, who help craft the policy that ended the ban a year ago. “To have a tweet reverse a DoD personnel policy is unprecedented.”
The Department of Defense referred all questions to the White House: "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 the military. We will provide revised guidance to the Department in the near future," said Naval Captain Jeff Davis, the director of defense press operations.
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis was on holiday this week and it was not immediately clear whether he knew about the president’s statement before he tweeted it out.
Trump's decision comes one week after the US House narrowly rejected an effort to roll back transgender military rights, with a couple dozen Republicans joining every Democrat to vote down an amendment that would have denied medical care required for gender transition, such as prescription drugs and surgeries.
In 2016, under the Obama administration, then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter expressed support for transgender people serving in the military, stating nothing "but their suitability for service should preclude" them from serving. He enacted a policy that allowed transgender people to serve openly and receive transition-related care, while setting a plan in motion to enlist new transgender troops. Most recently, the Defense Department said it would delay the policy on enlisting.
When informed during a CNN interview Wednesday morning of the president’s tweets, Republican Sen. Richard Shelby said, “You ought to treat everybody fairly and you ought to give everybody a chance to serve."
Shelby said he’d like to see the specific wording of the policy, but added that he is “sure" that the Senate will hold hearings on it. “We will go from there,” he said.
"The arguments being made against transgender servicemembers are the exact same as those faced by women, African-Americans and any other minority groups before they were able to serve in our military," Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan tweeted just after the announcement, calling Trump's decision "a disgrace & an insult to countless brave transgender servicemembers."
Sue Fulton, a member of SPARTA, a group of LGBT people who currently serve or have served in the military and their allies, wrote in an email to BuzzFeed News that “under the authority of the Secretary of Defense, transgender service members have been serving openly, honorably, and with distinction over the past year."
"They are commanding troops, training new recruits and conducting special operations among many of the responsibilities of the approximately 15k on active duty," she wrote. "If President Trump chooses to overrule his Secretary of Defense, he will disrupt units, undercut the mission and ruin lives. His comments have nothing to do with military readiness, and he should allow people who have served to determine what’s best.”
Republicans have long argued the cost of gender-transition treatment is exorbitantly expensive, though their stance encompasses a larger effort to resist transgender military integration by claiming it undermines fellow troops.
Sec. Carter had countered that argument last year, noting a study by the RAND Corporation found health care "costs would be minimal" and that "the medical treatment that service members who are currently transgender require is fairly straightforward, well understood.”
Congressman Dan Kildee of Michigan, vice chair of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Equality Caucus, said in a statement Wednesday that the ban "undermines our military's readiness," calling it "a slap in the face to the thousands of transgender Americans already serving in the military."
"Anyone who is willing to put on the uniform of the United States and risk their life in service to our country should be celebrated as patriots, regardless of their gender identity," he said. "This short-sighted and discriminatory policy will make America less safe."
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, tweeted Wednesday, "Thousands of transgender service members defend our country. They're patriots & should be applauded not discriminated against by Pres Trump."
Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of LGBT advocacy group GLAAD, said in a statement, “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."
“Today further exposed President Trump’s overall goal to erase LGBTQ Americans from this nation," she said. "Trump has never been a friend to LGBTQ Americans, and this action couldn’t make that any more clear.”
The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law estimates there are more than 15,000 transgender troops in the US military.
Wednesday is the 69th anniversary of Executive Order 9981, signed by President Harry Truman, ending racial discrimination in the US military.