The top uniformed military adviser to President Trump has told his subordinates the U.S. military will have “no modifications” to its policy allowing transgender troops to serve until further guidance from the White House.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford made assurances the policy will be the same for time being — despite Trump’s tweets announcing a ban transgender service — in a message to the military service chiefs, commanders and senior enlisted leaders obtained the Washington Blade and other media outlets.
“I know there are questions about yesterday’s announcement on the transgender policy by the President,” Dunford writes. “There will be no modification to the current policy until the President’s direction has been received by the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary has issued implementation guidance.”
Under the Obama administration, former Defense Secretary Ashton Carter lifted the medical regulation barring transgender people from serving openly in the armed forces, allowing them to come out without fear of discharge. They were also eligible to receive transition-related care, such as hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery, through the military’s health system.
Trump’s tweets this week declaring transgender people won’t be allowed to serve in the U.S. military “in any capacity” changed that, although the exact nature of his policy isn’t yet fleshed out.
“In the meantime, we will continue to treat all personnel with respect,” Dunford writes. “As importantly, given the current fight and the challenges we face, we will all remain focused on accomplishing our assigned missions.”
During the White House briefing Thursday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was unable to provide information on whether additional guidance from Trump would be forthcoming — or whether it would affect transgender people currently in service.
“As I said yesterday, the White House will work with the Department of Defense and all of the relevant parties to make sure that we fully implement this policy moving forward, and do so in a lawful manner,” Sanders said.
Asked if Trump was aware he can’t make policy changes on Twitter, Sanders replied, “I think he was making the announcement of the policy change.”
Pressed further on whether that means his policy hasn’t yet been formulated, Sanders said the White House and the Pentagon “will have to work out the details on how that all moves forward to lawfully implement that policy changes from this point.”
Sanders also professed to have no information when asked how long it would take until the White House knows the details of the new policy.
“I don’t have a specific timeline but I believe they’re going to start moving on it quickly, but we’ll keep you posted as those details come out,” Sanders said.
Pressed further on the timeline, Sanders said, “Again, I don’t have a specific timeline on what that looks like, but I know they’re ready to start moving and working on that implementation.”
Meanwhile, public officials and transgender advocates continue to comment on Trump’s decision to ban transgender people from the military.
Carter told CBS News Trump’s ban on transgender service is “social policy” that would interfere with the mission of the U.S. military.
“Quality people in uniform are what make our military the finest fighting force the world has ever seen,” Carter said. “I continue to maintain that what matters in choosing those who serve is that they are best qualified. To choose service members on other grounds than military qualifications is social policy and has no place in our military. There are already transgender individuals who are serving capably and honorably. This action would also send the wrong signal to a younger generation thinking about military service.”
Trump’s decision to bar transgender service in the armed forces comes after the U.S. House rejected an amendment proposed by Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) to bar transition-related care for transgender service members.
Media outlets reported Trump issued his ban on transgender military service in exchange for lawmakers who supported the measure to support funding for his U.S.-Mexico border wall.
During his weekly news conference, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said he’ll await the forthcoming guidance from the Pentagon before commenting on the transgender ban.
“The concern here in the House was whether or not the military will be forced to pay for these surgical procedures,” Ryan said. “I share those concerns. The question on the broader issue — that is being reviewed by the DOD and the White House, and I look forward seeing what it is that they actually produce.”
Pressed further on the issue, Ryan repeated, “DOD is reviewing this with the White House. I want to see what it is they actually produce.”