It started with a tweet and ended with a court filing: by Wednesday night, President Donald Trump had managed to disturb the military and insult soldiers and civilians, and sought to limit rights for millions of gay Americans.
First, there was the early morning string of tweets, saying “the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.” There are an estimated 2,450 transgender active military personnel, according to a RAND report. Trump provided no guidance to the Pentagon, or for those soldiers, sailors, pilots and Marines. He did not explain why they should be pulled from their posts. He cited no evidence and made no serious argument: just three tweets. And the Pentagon rightly told the president it doesn’t take orders via tweets.
There is no argument that makes sense for such an abrupt and blanket ban. Toward the end of his term, former President Barack Obama lifted a ban on openly serving transgender troops, following far after allies like Israel. Talk of “disruption” caused by transgender troops echoes words used to bar African Americans and women. Those bans fell for the military and country’s gain.
Obama greenlighted the military to pay for some, but not all, gender transition surgeries, an annual pittance. Yet the funding question and perhaps an inclination to refight the culture wars led House Republicans to lobby Trump for a roll-back.
Also Wednesday, the Justice Department filed, unrequested by either side, a friend of the court brief to argue that the Second Circuit Court of Appeals should not extend the protection of a 1964 civil rights law to gay workers. This is an extraordinary move, the federal government attempting to muscle its way into private litigation to perhaps find a vehicle to ride the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The case originated on Long Island, where a skydiving instructor about to be strapped together with a female customer noted he was gay in order to make her more comfortable. The instructor was later fired but his estate is continuing the discrimination suit after his death in a diving accident. Embattled Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has proven himself to be feverishly anti-gay, wants to make sure the courts don’t expand protection of gay workers.
Why the sudden grand intentions to pull rights and protections from the LGBTQ community? Perhaps an administration swimming in scandal and legislative inaction thinks bashing this group will shore up its base. But those actions have real and deplorable effects. In a sign of the dismay at how this was handled, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said “no modifications” to the rules until further guidance.
And in a stunning rebuke and reminder of how anyone should be treated regardless of one’s position on transgender service members, Joint Chiefs Chairman Joseph F. Dunford wrote that the services are committed to “treat all of our personnel with respect.”
In his day of disrespect, Trump did that neither for the military nor the LGBTQ citizens fearfully watching his support for legal discrimination. He should reverse course on both counts.