April 25, 2018 at 12:01 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
All service chiefs: No unit cohesion problems with trans military service

U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein has become the latest service chief to say trans military service has caused no unit cohesion issues. (Photo public domain)

All military service chiefs have now publicly stated allowing transgender people to serve in the U.S. armed services hasn’t resulted in any problems with unit cohesion or morale, undercutting a report from Defense Secretary James Mattis that raised fears about those issues without a transgender military ban.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein became the latest and final service chief to affirm transgender military service has caused no such problems during committee testimony Tuesday under questioning from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

In response to Gillibrand’s question on whether he’s seen any issues of morale or discipline over allowing transgender people to serve in the military— a policy first implemented in the Obama years before President Trump sought to reverse it — Goldfein replied, “The way you present the question, I have not.”

“I will tell that you that I’ve talked to commanders in the field, first sergeants, senior NCOs and I’m committed to ensure that they have the right levels of guidance to understand these very personal issues that they’re dealing with,” Goldfein added. “And so, we continue to move forward to ensure that we understand the issues.”

Under further questioning from Gillibrand, Goldfein said he had met with transgender service members and learned two things from those meetings: Their commitment to service and “how individual each particular case is.”

“It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach,” Goldfein added. “It’s very personal to each individual, and that’s why I go back to we have an obligation to ensure that we understand this medically and that we can provide our commanders and supervisors the guidance they need to be able to deal with this, so we don’t have issues.”

Goldfein’s testimony is consistent with those of his fellow chiefs — Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller — who have each said the change in the Obama years resulting in transgender military service has resulted in no problems with morale or unit cohesion.

U.S. Coast Commandant Vice Adm. Karl Schultz — who’s head of the Coast Guard, but technically not a service chief — has also said transgender service has not caused problems. Last week, he said during congressional testimony he’s “not aware of any disciplinary or unit cohesion issues resulting from the opening of the Coast Guard to transgender individuals.”

The unanimous denials from the service chiefs of unit cohesion problems with transgender service contradicts the recommendation from Mattis delivered to the White House on February, which cited such issues as a reason to ban transgender people from the military.

Based upon that recommendation, Trump reaffirmed in March his transgender military ban after announcing last year on Twitter he’d seek to ban transgender people from the military “in any capacity.”

Aaron Belkin, director of the San Francisco-based Palm Center, said the unanimity among the service chiefs denying unit cohesion problems with transgender service speaks volumes.

“The chiefs have spoken with one voice in repudiating a central tenet of the Pentagon report just weeks after its publication,” Belkin said. “The report did not offer any evidence to sustain its assertion that transgender troops harm cohesion. Now we know why: Two years’ experience of inclusive service has not provided any.”

As a result of litigation filed against Trump by LGBT legal groups, the Defense Department has been enjoined from enforcing Trump’s ban and must allow transgender people to enlist and remain in service.

That litigation and those rulings came up when Gillibrand turned to Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, who was also present at the hearing.

Although Wilson acknowledged Under Secretary of the Air Force Matthew Donovan represented the service on the panel of experts Mattis convened to come up with recommendations on transgender service, she declined to answer other questions.

When Gillibrand brought up a letter from the American Medical Association saying the Mattis recommendation defy medical science, Wilson said she had no knowledge about whether Air Force health professionals or outside groups had contributed to his panel, insisting she “wasn’t involved.”

Asked by Gillibrand point blank if she ever recommended a change in policy on transgender service as Air Force secretary, Wilson dodged and made a reference to pending litigation.

“This is a matter that’s in the courts, and I think it’s probably best when things are under litigation that that process play out,” Wilson said. “The guidance that the chief and I have given the service is that all airmen are being treated with dignity and respect and we comply with a court order on accessions as well as retaining airmen who have disclosed that they are transgender.”

Gillibrand retorted the “White House hasn’t taken your advice about leaving it the courts,” pointing out the Mattis recommendation and Trump’s military ban is contrary to rulings from judges in favor of transgender service. Wilson again referenced the litigation.

“That is now in the courts, the new recommended policy change” Wilson said. “While that is being considered by the courts, the court order that we’re under continues. We continue to access transgender members in accordance with the court order.”

Wilson has been praised by the anti-LGBT Family Research Council and has an anti-LGBT record as a member of Congress. As Air Force secretary, Wilson sought to have a penalty lifted on an Air Force commander who refused to recognize the same-sex spouse of a subordinate in retirement materials.

Belkin said the Wilson’s responses to Gillibrand under questioning were an “artful dodge” and raise questions about the secretary’s level of involvement in the trans ban.

“She said she wasn’t part of the panel, but the real question is whether she (and her fellow culture warriors at the Family Research Council) were part of the process, not just the panel,” Belkin said.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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