“An Unprecedented Betrayal”: Former Military Leaders Condemn Trump’s Trans Troops Ban

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Former secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force told a federal court on Thursday that Donald Trump’s ban on transgender troops is cruel, unjustified, and counterproductive in an authoritative rejoinder to the administration’s efforts to depict open trans service as a dangerous experiment.

In declarations filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, former Secretary of the United States Air Force Deborah Lee James, former Secretary of the Navy Raymond Edwin Mabus, Jr., and former Secretary of the Army Eric K. Fanning asserted that trans troops have already been smoothly integrated into the military. All three secretaries participated in the working group that former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter convened to study the possibility of trans service. Each also helped to implement trans-inclusive policies in their respective branches of the armed forces after the military ended its trans ban in June 2016. Their declarations are part of a lawsuit against Trump’s ban filed by the National Center for Lesbian Rights and GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders.

James’ declaration is a direct rebuke to Trump’s dubious claims about trans service. “I am not aware of any evidence to support President Trump’s stated rationales for reversing the policy permitting open service,” James explained. Instead, the ban “will result in the loss of qualified recruits and trained personnel, reducing readiness and operational effectiveness.” Moreover, the ban will erode “service members’ trust,” have “a deleterious effect on morale,” and hamper “recruitment and retention.”

Mabus echoed these concerns and criticized the “arbitrary decisionmaking” that led to Trump’s announcement.

“It is also unprecedented to reverse policy in such an abrupt manner,” Mabus wrote.

So much careful thought had gone into development of the policy, with consensus at the highest levels of military leadership. … I cannot recall another instance in United States military history of such a stark and unfounded reversal of policy, or of any example in our nation’s history in which a minority group once permitted to serve has been excluded from the military after its members had been allowed to serve openly and honestly.

Fanning’s declaration was equally stark. “Commanders have told the enlisted soldiers they command that they must treat transgender service members the same as all others,” he wrote.

Now they are being directed by the Commander in Chief that those same soldiers are unfit to serve. The new policy reinstitutes discrimination with no factual basis to do so. Imposing new discriminatory standards without any justification is enormously disruptive to unit cohesion and undermines the principle of mutual respect which is essential to the military’s effectiveness.

Fanning added that “forcing transgender soldiers to lie and hide their transgender status …  undermines unit cohesion by eroding the bonds of trust among soldiers. It puts non-transgender soldiers in the position of having to choose between reporting fellow soldiers or violating policy.” He concluded:

[T]he Armed Forces have told transgender service members that they may disclose their transgender status and serve openly, without fear of discharge based on their transgender status. Dramatically reversing course and now using that information as a basis for separating these soldiers from their service is an unprecedented betrayal of the trust that is so essential to achieving the mission of all of the armed forces.

The NCLR/GLAD lawsuit is one of three filed against the ban. It has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly. The plaintiffs, a group of transgender service members, argue that the new policy violates their constitutional rights to due process and equal protection.