Despite growing calls from lawmakers and advocates to lift the ban on transgender people serving in the armed forces, President Obama isn’t expected to announce a policy change on the issue during the upcoming Pride reception at the White House on Wednesday.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday he “wouldn’t anticipate an announcement like that” at the event from Obama in response to a question from the Washington Blade on whether the president would take the opportunity to declare an end to the policy.
Earnest said implementation of a change like open trans service requires military leaders to complete a process when asked if the administration’s previously stated openness to the idea is incongruous with the military’s continued policy of expelling trans troops.
“This was a question that was posed earlier in the administration related specifically to the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy,” Earnest said. “We’ve long acknowledged that considering these kinds of policy changes also involves considering the process for implementing them, and the job of advocates on the outside is to apply pressure and to try to speed that process. It’s the responsibility of those, particularly those who are leading our military, to ensure that any policy that is decided and implemented is clearly within the best interest of the United States military and our men and women in uniform who volunteer to serve this country.”
Earnest restated Obama’s view that suggests he supports allowing openly trans people to serve, although that view doesn’t explicitly endorse a policy change.
“But I will reiterate the president’s view, and it’s one that is shared by his secretary of defense,” Earnest said. “It’s that Americans who are qualified to serve should be able to do so and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.”
Asked whether the president believes military leaders will lift the ban on trans service before the end of his administration, Earnest replied, “I don’t have any news for you to make on this today.”
The ban on openly trans military service continues to receive attention. Although the White House and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter have expressed an openness to the idea, no specific review of the ban is underway and the ban remains in place.
Instead, the Pentagon says a wide-ranging review of medical policy that isn’t specific to the ban on trans service is underway. That may result in a change to the trans ban, which is a medical regulation. The Army and the Air Force have raised the authority needed to discharge a service member for being trans, while the Navy is considering such a change.
As the New York Times first reported last week, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) is soliciting support for introduction of legislation this month to lift the ban on trans service and Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) is circulating a letter calling on the administration to change the policy. Members of Congress who’ve expressed support for openly trans service include House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Susan Davis (D-Calif.) and Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.)
The issue is showing signs of bipartisan support.
Last week, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush expressed an openness to the idea of trans military service, saying “there’s a role for everybody” in the armed forces. Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Lincoln Chafee have said they support openly trans service, but Hillary Clinton hasn’t explicitly addressed the issue.
Meanwhile, at least two openly trans service members and four trans military veterans will attend the Pride reception at the White House on Wednesday, according to the LGBT military group SPARTA.
One of these trans active duty service members, Air Force Senior Airman Logan Ireland, has received dispensation from his command to attend wearing a male dress uniform. The other trans active duty service member schedule to attend is his fiancée, Army Corp. Laila Villanueva, who plans to attend in civilian clothes.
The trans veterans set to attend are retired Army Col. Sheri Swokowski, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Brynn Tannehill, Former Marine Sgt. Devon Allen and former Army National Guard Specialist Bryce Jordan Celotto.
“For those of us who are veterans, this is our opportunity to represent over 15,500 transgender people currently serving in our armed forces,” Swokowski said. “We are here to tell their stories while they continue to risk discharge by coming out. They serve their country with honor and distinction while they are denied medically necessary care as well as personal integrity to be who they are. It’s the current version of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.'”