Resistance to Donald Trump’s ban on open transgender service is coalescing throughout the military, from top brass to grunts to veterans to their overseers on Capitol Hill.
Several pro-trans troops, activists, and legal scholars are holding out hope that the announced ban, tweeted by Trump with minimal notice to the military early on Wednesday, won’t survive a wave of political pressure.
That pressure gained momentum from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Thursday, as Marine General Joseph Dunford clarified that tweets from the commander-in-chief do not have the force of orders. Until the military receives an official order, Dunford said, there will be no change in the military’s recent approach to accommodate open transgender service.
“In the meantime,” Dunford said, “we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect.”
Spokesmen refused to confirm when Dunford first heard of the policy change, though defense officials insisted Pentagon chief Jim Mattis knew at least a day before the tweet that Trump had made up his mind to ban trans troops. (Politico reported that Trump made his decision at the spur of the moment, in order to secure the support of lawmakers who were holding up the funding for a border wall.)
Trump, in his tweet, cited “my Generals” – an extraordinary offhand turn of phrase, since a bedrock principle of the U.S. military is allegiance to the country and the Constitution, not a specific political leader – urging him to ban trans service. Yet neither the military nor the White House have identified which generals or admirals had given Trump such advice.
The Pentagon had been in the process of conducting a Mattis-ordered six-month review of whether to allow transgender recruits, but one U.S. official said there’d been no formal process or meetings inside the Pentagon to discuss the possible impact of banning all transgender troops, including how this would affect transgender troops currently serving.
“Think incompetency, not conspiracy,” the official said.
On Capitol Hill, a senior staffer expressed frustration that Trump had chosen to open debate on this discussion now, when Senate and House armed services committees have been waiting for the White House to share updated policies for Afghanistan, ISIS, and a new global counterterrorism campaign against extremist militants. The staffer and officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the controversy.
Dana White, the Department’s top spokeswoman, said in a Thursday statement that the Pentagon was still “awaiting formal guidance” from the White House about the transgender ban. But, sounding as if the Pentagon was not expecting Trump to change his mind, indicated that after the White House provides it, “we will provide detailed guidance to the Department in the near future for how this policy change will be implemented.”
‘I’m a Motherfucking Marine’
At lower levels throughout the Defense Department, however, there were subtle but conspicuous signs of dissatisfaction to the hastily-tweeted reversal over trans service.
The Defense Acquisition University, an obscure educational arm of the department for those responsible for purchasing the military’s hardware, prominently featured on its Facebook and Twitter pages Wednesday night the image of a swole, swaggering, sunglasses-wearing airman. For all outward appearances, it was an unremarkable photo illustration, with the airman’s image blended into those of the Defense Department logo and a fighter jet, par for the course on a department site.
But those who had been following the fallout of the trans service decision immediately recognized the airman: Staff Sergeant Logan Ireland, who is transgender. Sources familiar with the social-media posting said Ireland’s image was chosen deliberately – to show the same support for Ireland as the institution would show for any other airman or other servicemember.
The picture went up as part of a typical refreshing of imagery on the university’s social media accounts, and Ireland’s photo was available through a simple Google Image search. Shortly afterward, the photo was prominently featured in a widely-read Air Force Times story featuring trans troops’ reaction to word from their commander-in-chief that they weren’t welcome in uniform.
“I would like to see them try to kick me out of my military,” Ireland told reporter Stephen Losey. “You are not going to deny me my right to serve my country when I am fully qualified and able and willing to give my life.” (Another instantly-iconic quote Losey acquired: “I have never described myself as trans; I’m a motherfucking Marine.”)
Sources familiar with the social-media posting said Ireland was aware of it and was appreciative. Those sources indicated the reaction to the postings have been wholly positive.
In another case, dozens of veterans on Thursday had drafted and were circulating an open letter to Mattis, just published by The Daily Beast, urging him to advise Trump to back down on the transgender service ban.
“As American veterans, some of whom have served under your command, we implore you to publicly reject the President’s harmful statements and advise him to reverse this discriminatory decision,” according to a draft of the letter seen by The Daily Beast.
“We know this is difficult for a leader in your position. But as you know well, great leaders cannot be timid in the face of adversity.”