Armed Forces Chiefs: We See No Issue With Open Transgender Military Service

By Shane Stahl • April 25, 2018 • 3:40 pm

With the testimony of Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, the top military leaders of all branches of the United States armed services are now on record as seeing no issues in unit morale, readiness, or fitness presented by the ability of transgender soldiers to serve openly, a strong rebuke of President Trump’s attempted ban on transgender military service.

Goldfein joined Army Chief of Staff Mark Milley, Marines Commandant Robert Neller, Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Paul Zukunft, and Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson in presenting no concerns regarding the military service of transgender people.

Leading the charge of getting the top brass on record has been New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. In Tuesday’s hearing, Gillibrand asked Chief Goldfein if he was “aware of any specific issues of unit cohesion, disciplinary problems or issues with morale resulting from open transgender service members in the Air Force?”

Goldfein responded, “Not the way you’ve presented the question, ma’am, I’m not. I will tell you that I’ve talked to commanders in the field, first sergeants, senior [noncommissioned officers], and I’m committed to ensure that they have the right levels of guidance to understand these personal issues that they’re dealing with, and so we continue to move forward to ensure that we understand the issues.”

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

Previous testimony on the issue included the following:

Chief Milley, U.S. Army: “We have a finite number [of transgender troops]. We know who they are, and want to make sure that they are, in fact, treated with dignity and respect. And no, I have received precisely zero reports [of problems].”

Commandant Neller, U.S. Marines: “By reporting those Marines that have come forward, there’s 27 Marines that have identified as transgender, one sailor serving. I am not aware of any issues in those areas.”

Admiral Richardson, U.S. Navy: “By virtue of being a Navy sailor, we treat 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 am not aware of any issues.”

Admiral Zukunft, U.S. Coast Guard: (testifying before a House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee): “We are certainly committed to their continued service in the United States Coast Guard. We will make sure that there is one policy for all service members.”

In mid-2017, President Trump announced his intention to place a ban on transgender service in the military, in direct opposition to an Obama administration decision to allow such service, to begin on January 1 of 2018. In August, Trump signed an executive order enforcing the ban; almost immediately, lawsuits were filed and supported by our legal partners at NCLR, GLAD, Lambda Legal, ACLU, SPARTA, the Transgender American Veteran Association, Outserve-SLDN, and more. As a result, the ban is currently stayed by multiple courts due to the question of its constitutionality.

Although the President signed a memo banning transgender service last month, based on guidance he received from Secretary of Defense James Mattis, the stays still prevent any action from going into order; the administration has since been ordered by a federal court to provide documentation related to who was involved in the policy’s creation and how the administration would attempt to implement it.

Several conservative Senators, veterans of military service, have also previously spoken from across the aisle to show their support of transgender soldiers.

“Any American who meets current medical and readiness standards should be allowed to continue serving,” said Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain.

Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa offered in a statement, “Americans who are qualified and can meet the standards to serve in the military should be afforded that opportunity.”

Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, upon the initial announcement of the ban in 2017, tweeted, “I don’t think we should be discriminating against anyone. Transgender people are people, and deserve the best we can do for them. I look forward to getting much more information and clarity from our military leaders.”

Transgender soldiers have been able to enlist in all branches of the military as of January 1 this year. Read our profile of one of the first enlistees, Logan Downs, here.

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