April 19, 2018 at 5:08 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Top Navy, Marine officials say no unit problems with trans military service

Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert B. Neller and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson says there’s no unit problems with trans military service. (Photos public domain)

The top uniform officials in the Navy and Marine Corps denied on Thursday the presence of transgender service members has resulted in any problems for unit cohesion despite fears cited by the Trump administration in the implementation of its anti-trans military ban.

But Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said commanders of military units had expressed concerns about medical needs for transgender troops and the length of time these Marines would be non-deployable as they underwent gender transition.

Neller and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson made the remarks during a hearing on Navy posture before the Senate Armed Services Committee under questioning from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who has introduced legislation against Trump’s transgender military ban.

Transgender people were first allowed to serve openly in the military in 2016 under the Obama administration before President Trump sought to ban it after taking office. As a result of lawsuits filed against Trump when he said on Twitter he’d ban transgender people from the military “in any capacity,” federal courts have enjoined the Trump administration from enforcing the ban as litigation moves forward.

Asked by Gillibrand for any reports of unit disruptions as a result of transgender military service, Richardson was first to deny any problems, insisting the Navy treats “every one of those Navy sailors regardless with dignity and respect that is warranted by wearing the uniform of the United States Navy.”

“By virtue of that approach, I’m not aware of any issues,” Richardson added.

When Gillibrand turned to Neller, the Marine Corps commandant said the service has 27 Marines who are openly transgender and “one sailor serving,” adding he’s “not aware of any issues in those areas.”

But Neller continued, “The only issues I’ve heard of is, in some cases, because of the medical requirements of some of these individuals that there is a burden on the commands to handle all their medical stuff, but discipline, cohesion of the force, no.”

When Gillibrand asked Neller to elaborate on these medical concerns, the Marine Corps commandant said commanders had differing takes on the issue.

“Some of them are in a different place than others,” Neller said. “And so, there is, part of this is an education, and part of it is there are some medical things that have to be involved as they go through the process of transitioning and real-life experience and whatever their level of dysphoria is. So, for commanders, some of them have said, ‘No. It’s not a problem at all.’ Others have said there is a lot of time where this individual may or may not be available.”

Still, Neller said for Marine who’ve come out as transgender, “we have to honor the fact that they came out and they trusted us to say that, and that we need to make sure that we help them get through that process.”

Under further questioning Gillibrand, Neller acknowledged he met with four transgender service members: A naval officer, an Army staff sergeant, a Marine officer and a Navy corpsman. When the senator pressed Neller on what he learned from them, the Marine Corps commandant acknowledge their commitment to service.

“I learned about their desire to serve, I leaned about their recognition of their identification opposite their birth sex,” Neller said. “We had a very candid, frank conversation, and I respect, as the [chief of naval operations] said, I respect their desire to serve, and all of them, to the best of my knowledge were ready and prepared to deploy.”

Neller made a conclusion hinting he thinks the Marine Corps would ultimately accept transgender service: “As long as they can meet the standard of what their particular occupation was, I think we’ll move forward.”

The assessment from Richardson and Neller that transgender service has resulted in no problems with unit cohesion is consistent with remarks last week from Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, who said he’s heard “precisely zero reports” of issues in the Army.

Like Milley’s comments, the remarks from Richardson and Seller contradict a recommendation from Defense Secretary James Mattis against transgender military service, which Trump used to form the basis of his military ban. Mattis’ recommendation cites potential problems with unit cohesion as well as medical and psychological issues as the reasons to ban transgender military service.

Gillibrand also asked Richardson what actions he’s taken to ensure stability in the wake of the Trump’s proposal to ban transgender troops. The chief of naval operations responded, “Ma’am, I will tell you, it’s steady as she goes.”

“We’re taking lessons from when we integrated women into the submarine force, and one of the pillars of that was to make sure that there were really no differences highlighted in our approach to training those sailors,” Richardson added. “That program has gone very well. And so, maintaining that level playing field of a standards-based approach seems to be the key to success, and that’s the approach we’re taking.”

Ashley Broadway-Mack, president of the American Military Partners Association, said in a statement the testimony from the Navy and Marine Corps demonstrates Trump’s ban is baseless.

“All the evidence continues to show there is absolutely no justification for the Trump-Pence transgender military ban outside of blatant, discriminatory bias,” Broadway-Mack said. “We are proud to be plaintiffs in a case challenging this unfounded and unconstitutional ban in court. Donald Trump and Mike Pence must end their unconscionable assault on transgender service members and their families. They must start honoring and supporting all who serve.”

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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