President Donald Trump’s tweets declaring transgender people unwelcome in the armed forces have plunged the Pentagon into a legal and moral quagmire, sparking a flurry of meetings to devise a new policy that could lead to hundreds of service members being discharged.
Months after officially allowing transgender troops to serve openly in the military, the department may be forced to throw out those who willingly came forward after being promised they’d be protected.
A team of military lawyers has been pulled together to deal with the matter, Adm. Paul Zukunft, the Coast Guard commandant, revealed at the Center For Strategic and International Studies this week. These lawyers are working with the White House to flesh out some of the issues, and they’re bolstered by a Pentagon working group that had initially been set up to advance the implementation of the Obama administration’s year-old repeal of a transgender ban.
Now, they must deal with whatever new post-tweet policy emerges, according to the officials, who weren’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter and requested anonymity.
Pentagon chief spokeswoman Dana White confirmed that talks between the White House and the Pentagon to work out the details of a new transgender policy have begun. Although it’s unclear what the result will be, the discussions illustrate that Trump’s aides aren’t writing off his three-tweet salvo last week as an isolated outburst but as guidance for an upheaval in one of the military’s most sensitive equal rights questions.
Whatever the final policy, court challenges are likely. And the personnel, health care and fairness issues sure to ensue may compel some soldiers, sailors and others to hide their identities and live a lie to remain in the military.
It’s a scenario that raises the specter of the now-defunct “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that once governed gays in the military. While the 1993 compromise banned gay men and women from serving, it essentially safeguarded their places in the ranks as long as they kept their homosexuality hidden. More than 13,000 were discharged after the policy was enacted. While many others remained, they were forced to keep their sexuality in the closet.
Now, asks Sarah Warbelow, legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, “Are they going to go on a witch hunt?”
The Pentagon working group had been studying health care questions and how and when transgender people might be allowed to enlist. Now its members and the military’s…