Lt. Cmdr. Blake Dremann is continuing to do his job, despite President Trump’s announcement that he intends to ban transgender people from serving in the U.S. military.
The transgender Navy supply core officer, 36, is feeling secure in his role at a military base in Virginia — at least for the time being — until higher-ups issue guidance telling him he can no longer serve.
“Until direction comes back to DOD through official channels, the DOD’s not going to act,” Dremann said.
Dremann said his fate is ultimately up to the institution to which he’s dedicated his life and just as he followed orders before, he’ll keep doing that until the end.
“The military doesn’t really care about my feelings,” Dremann said. “Either I’m fit or not fit. As much as it was a bit of a shock, there’s a job to be done, and that’s what I’m here to do.”
Dremann is one of the thousands of transgender people in the U.S. armed forces — estimates range as high as 15,000 according to the Williams Institute or between 1,320 and 6,630 in active duty alone according to RAND Corps. — who may face expulsion in the aftermath of the policy change Trump announced on Twitter.
It remains unclear how such a ban would be implemented and resistance to Trump’s move is growing. Trump’s announcement the U.S. military “will not accept or allow” transgender people to serve “in any capacity” wasn’t specific on whether he was banning new enlistees from joining the military, or expelling those currently in service. The White House won’t say whether current troops will be kicked out, citing plans for upcoming guidance fleshing out the new policy.
Trump’s ban on transgender service comes after trans people have been serving openly in the U.S. military for a year after former Defense Secretary Ashton Carter under the Obama administration lifted the medical regulation barring transgender people from service.
The president’s announcement came out of the blue. Defense Secretary James Mattis halted a portion of the Obama policy change that would have allowed transgender people to enlist in the armed forces starting July 1, calling for a study of the issue for another six months. Trump’s ban seems to have disregarded the defense chief.
Dremann said he learned of the transgender military ban — and that his 11-year career in the Navy was in jeopardy — via a CNN news blast of the president’s tweets.
“It was absolutely a surprise,” Dremann said. “There had been no indication from anywhere that this was coming down the pike.”
Calling his service in the armed forces “his whole life,” Dremann said he’d have to do additional “soul-searching” about what he would do if he could no longer serve as a result of Trump’s policy.
“Once the ban was lifted, there was no reason for me to leave, so to reinstate the ban and tell me I have to get out, that’s a big change in life plans,” Dremann said. “So, I have to figure out what my next move is after that. It would be devastating for me personally because I thought serving in the Navy until I retired was really what I wanted to do.”
Dremann is just one of many transgender service members currently in service and wondering about their fate in the aftermath of Trump’s announcement.
Army Capt. Jennifer Peace, a transgender intelligence officer stationed at Fort Lewis in Washington State, said her reaction upon finding out about Trump’s tweets was “shock and confusion over exactly what was happening.”
“It came out of nowhere,” Peace said. “And my first reaction was trying to figure out what was going on. And since then, the Department of Defense and the secretary of the Army have both said that as of right now, nothing has changed and they’re going to continue treating trans soldiers with the same dignity and respect as every other soldier. And so, those are my last orders and that’s what I’m going with.”
Peace, 31, said she’s served in the Army for 13 years and gone on two combat deployments and four overseas tours. Peace was able to serve under the previous transgender ban, she said, because she didn’t transition until 2014 or come out until 2015.
At the time the Obama administration lifted its ban on transgender service, Peace recalled being elated as if a weight was lifted from her shoulders.
“When the trans policy first came out, we’d been working on it for well over a year, so it was a slow build up and it was a surprise, but not an unanticipated one,” Peace said.
But that’s all changed in the aftermath of Trump’s announcement, which Peace said has led to “fear and concern and worry” about being possibly expelled from the military.
“It would be devastating,” Peace said. “I can’t imagine a life without the Army, and certainly not now. There’s so much that I want to do. In every way, personally and professionally, it would be devastating for me and my family. It’s hard to think about because I can’t imagine waking up tomorrow and not being a soldier. I don’t even know how to begin thinking about that.”
Army Reserve Capt. Jacob Eleazer, 31, a transgender member of the Kentucky National Guard, said upon hearing the news Trump had banned transgender troops he “thought it was a hoax.”
“I was sitting at work,” Eleazer said. “I had just gotten in and my phone was blowing up. I’m normally not that popular on social media. I was like I better check and see what was going on. A friend of mine had posted the comments and tagged me, and so, that’s how I found out.”
After coming out as transgender in 2014, Eleazer under the previous military ban was on his way to expulsion from the armed forces. But the day he was supposed to be discharged in 2015 was also the day the Army elected to raise its discharge authority for separations on the basis of gender identity, saving him at the last minute.
“I’m kind of sitting here on the other end of things thinking this stuff was over and I’d be able to move forward with my life and my career, and this kind of came out of nowhere,” Eleazaer said.
Eleazer said termination of military service would be “an end of a dream,” citing his upcoming completion of his doctorate in counseling psychology at the University of Louisville. Eleazer said his plan was to transfer into a medical position to serve as a military psychologist and work with LGBT patients and those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Even delaying the policy at this point is derailing my personal career goals, and it may rob me of a training opportunity at the very least,” Eleazer said. “With a policy banning trans military service overall, I’m going to have to make some pretty drastic changes to my career plans.”
With no formal return to the transgender ban yet underway, Eleazer said he remains in a wait-and-see mode and plans to attend drill this week. Already, Eleazer said he’s found support from his commanding officer, who told him he’d remain in service until further guidance comes down.
“In some ways, I have kind of a positive experience because I have my command that supports me,” Eleazer said. “I’m concerned about what might happen, how things are going to move forward, if we’re going to be getting an order, but right now I’m just kind of waiting to see what actually, officially rolls out.”
A number of voices have emerged challenging Trump’s planned ban on transgender service. Among them are 45 senators urging Mattis to resist Trump on the policy and 56 retired generals and admirals who warned Trump in a joint statement the policy would degrade readiness.
On Tuesday, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft said at a military forum he “will not break faith” with transgender people under his command, suggesting he’ll defy Trump on the issue.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders had no comment Tuesday on the Coast Guard commandant’s remarks, citing plans for additional guidance.
“I haven’t heard those comments or had a chance to speak with anyone about it, but I know that the goal is to work with all of the relevant departments, primarily the Department of Defense, to lawfully implement that new policy,” Sanders said.
Matthew Thorn, president of the LGBT military group OutServe-SLDN, said signs of support from military leaders like Zukunft are common as transgender troops continue to serve despite Trump’s tweets against their service.
“Our military needs to be focused on the mission and this is a distraction,” Thorn said. “We have two ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq and two nations spiraling out of control, Syria and North Korea, respectively. Our trans service members are dedicated to the mission, we can’t afford them to be distracted by a tweet and whether or not this president is going to discharge them from their oath to the country.”