Thursday, July 27, 2017

Trump's anti-trans tweets stir up a hornets nest

DONALD TRUMP did it again. He was able to get Americans  to shift their attention from the Russia/Trump question and his attempt to undo the Affordable Care Act with a series of tweets banning transgender people from serving in the U.S. military.
The Trump twitter twister mark a sharp reversal of recent Department of Defense (DoD) policy. In 2011, Congress repealed the infamous “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and allowed lesbian, gay, and bisexual personnel openly to serve in the military. In 2016, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced that DoD was lifting the ban on transgender service and would cover transition-related healthcare costs for service members.

The Trump tweets caught the Pentagon and the Department of Defense off guard because they seemingly came from left field. There were no plans or discussions to abandon the policy that would affect the 15,000 transgender personnel serving in the U.S. armed forces today.

In order to clear some of the confusion caused by Trump's tweets, Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sent a written message on Thursday to military leaders:

“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,” Dunford said in the written message to service chiefs, commanders and senior enlisted leaders, seen by Reuters.

“In the meantime, we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect. As importantly, given the current fight and the challenges we face, we will all remain focused on accomplishing our assigned missions.”

In his tweets, Trump justified reinstating a blanket ban on transgender service by citing the “tremendous medical costs and disruption” that inclusion would entail. Yet, a study commissioned by the DoD concluded last year that allowing transgender service members to serve openly would have “minimal impact on readiness and health care costs,” around US$2.4 million to $8.4 million in a military healthcare budget of $6.2 billion. To put this in perspective, the military spends $41.6 million on Viagra each year.

The reaction has been swift.

“President Trump’s decision to kick transgender service members out of the military reflects no understanding or appreciation for the sacrifices made by those who serve," said Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., who is the first openly gay Asian elected to Congress.

"Every American who is willing to risk their life to defend our freedom deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. And any form of discrimination against the transgender community is unacceptable.

“President Trump is the commander in chief. He needs to start acting like it.”

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., a helicopter pilot who lost her legs while fighting in Iraq, brought up the fact that Trump had never worn the uniform.

"It shows that this man is not fit to be commander in chief of the United States military," said Duckworth, who is part Chinese. "This is yet another policy coming out of this White House that is not even half-baked, at best, and if anything will be destructive to the security of our nation because it seeks to dismantle so many of the strengths of our military, including its inclusiveness."

“Sixty-nine years ago on this day, President Harry Truman took the historic step of desegregating the military and advancing the cause of equality," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., "Today, President Trump – who hasn’t served a day in the military – is taking us back.”

“Trans rights are human rights," she continued. "The Constitution promises liberty to all to define and express their identity, but my Republican colleagues are doing nothing to stop the president as he tries to shred the Constitution, tweet by tweet," 

Trump's tweets also irked politicians in his own party. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who chairs the Senate armed services committee and a veteran, said: “The president’s tweet this morning is yet another example of why major policy announcements should not be made via Twitter.”

He added: “Any American who meets current medical and readiness standards should be allowed to continue serving. There is no reason to force service members who are able to fight, train, and deploy to leave the military – regardless of their gender identity.”

Even GOP congressmen who earlier introduced an amendment to forbid the use of government funds to pay for sex change operations, which failed in the House, clarified that their measure was based on economics and was not against trans people from being in the military.

Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., who voted for the amendment, wrote in reaction to Trump’s ban, “America needs a military comprised of patriots willing to sacrifice for this country. Any American who is physically and emotionally qualified should be allowed to serve.”