U.S. President Donald Trump‘s announcement that transgender individuals will be banned from the U.S. military made waves across the country Wednesday morning.
The decision — which he tweeted out — seemed to have caught politicians and the Pentagon by surprise.
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Members of the staff of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis appeared to have been caught unaware by Trump’s tweets, when contacted by the Associated Press. The Pentagon referred all questions to the White House, which has also not yet commented.
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U.S. Senate Armed Forces Committee Chairman John McCain reacted to the announcement by calling it “unclear” and inappropriate, given an ongoing Pentagon study on the issue.
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“I do not believe that any new policy decision is appropriate until that study is complete and thoroughly reviewed by the Secretary of Defense, our military leadership and the Congress,” McCain said in a statement, adding that U.S. defense officials had already decided that currently-serving transgender troops could remain in the military.
While apparently unexpected, the move left many LGBTQ groups fuming, and got reaction from Barack Obama’s former defense secretary.
Former defense secretary speaks out
In June 2016, the Obama administration removed the ban on transgender individuals serving in the military.
“This is the right thing to do for our people and for the force,” former Defense Secretary Ash Carter said in a statement at the time.
The final phase of removing the ban was slated to occur this month.
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Carter slammed Trump’s announcement in a statement Wednesday.
“To choose service members on other grounds than military qualifications is social policy and has no place in our military,” Carter said in a statement, noting there were already transgender individuals serving “capably and honourably.”
What led Trump to reinstate the ban?
While Mattis pledged in January to uphold the previous administration’s policy change on transgender individuals, he asked the president for a six-month delay in enforcing Carter’s changes.
The new measures, originally meant for July 1, 2017, would ensure that those already identifying as transgender could join the military.
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In his tweets, Trump claimed the decision was made after consultations with military experts and generals. He justified the move by saying transgender individuals would burden the military with “tremendous medical costs.”
Who will this impact?
A 2016 RAND Corp. study estimated that there are between 2,500 and 7,000 on active duty and an additional 1,500 to 4,000 in the reserves.
Following Carter’s removal of the ban last year, many transgender troops began openly speaking out about their gender identities. In previous years, they had to wear the uniform of their birth gender, and use that gender on their identification. Many kept their transgender identities secret.
What happens next?
It’s unclear when Trump’s decision will go into effect at this point, and what impact it will have on existing transgender military members.
A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, declined to answer questions about what Trump’s tweets mean for the current policy, including whether transgender people already serving in the military will be kicked out.
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“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,” Davis’ statement read.
Late Wednesday afternoon, the Canadian Forces responded to the policy change with a single tweet.
— With files from Reuters, Associated Press
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