The nation’s senior military officer said Thursday that there will be “no modifications” to Pentagon policies for now despite President Trump social media posts declaring a ban on transgender troops in uniform.
Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote in a memo to commanders and senior enlisted leaders of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines that the military will continue to “treat all of our personnel with respect.”
Dunford said Pentagon policy on transgender troops would not change until the White House has issued Trump’s directive to Secretary of Defense James Mattis through formal channels — not on Twitter — and the secretary’s office issues guidance on implementation to the service chiefs. It’s unclear when that might happen.
The unusual memo appeared intended to calm widespread confusion and concern at the Pentagon, which was blindsided when Trump wrote Wednesday that Pentagon would not “accept or allow” transgender troops to serve “in any capacity.”
The president’s posts appeared to reverse a year-old Pentagon policy that allowed transgender soldiers to openly serve for the first time, and to seek sex reassignment surgery, hormone therapy and other treatments at military hospitals.
Trump’s surprise announcement not only marked a retreat for the Pentagon push to bar gender-based discrimination. It also was an about-face for Trump, who had repeatedly vowed his support for the LGBT community during the campaign last year.
The posts raised questions about the fate of thousands of transgender service members, including some deployed overseas, and whether they would be kicked out of the military under Trump’s directive.
Dunford’s memo appeared to address those fears, at least for the short term.
“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,” he wrote.
“In the meantime, we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect,” he added. “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 said he had decided to bar transgender troops because the military “cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”
Experts said neither justification was accurate or fair since the expected medical costs were negligible and transgender troops have been openly serving for the past year without disruption.
The sweeping declaration drew rebuke from war veterans and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy groups, who vowed to challenge Trump in federal court if self-identified transgender service members are forced out of the military.
VoteVets, a liberal military veterans advocacy group, said Thursday it had collected more than 20,000 signatures from veterans, military families and other supporters to oppose the ban.