US Navy secretary hints at opposition to transgender military ban

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

The US Navy Secretary has said that he believes that any patriot should be welcome in the US Armed Forces.

Trump stirred anger last month by announcing he would impose a ban on transgender soldiers serving openly in the military.

Reversing a decision under Barack Obama, Trump claimed in a string of tweets that the military “cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail”.

The loosely-worded announcement, which was made without detail or consultation with military leaders, has been drawn up into a directive that is expected to see active-duty transgender people dismissed from their roles.

Today the US Navy Secretary gave the clearest indication yet that there is dissent within the senior ranks on the issue.

Richard V. Spencer, who was only confirmed as the US Secretary of the Navy on August 1,  gave an enigmatic answer when asked about the transgender ban.

He todld reporters: “On a fundamental basis, any patriot that wants to serve and meets all the requirements should be able to serve in our military.”

However, he confirmed that the Navy would follow the orders.

“We will process and take direction of a policy that is developed by [Trump’s Defence Secretary James Mattis] with direction from the president and march out smartly.”

The directive was meant to be rolled out this week – but threats of military action against North Korea have reportedly postponed any action, as “personnel matters” have been sidelined.

This week five soldiers with more than 60 combined years of service have filed a lawsuit challenging Trump’s planned ban on transgender people in the military.

Lawyers from GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) filed the federal lawsuit on behalf of 5 transgender service members with nearly 60 years of combined military service.

The plaintiffs serve in the Air Force, the Coast Guard, and the Army. Their years of service range from three years to two decades, and include tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The plaintiffs have not been publicly identified, so they cannot be targeted in the purge – but they say due to the decision they face dramatic uncertainty about their futures including the potential loss of their professions, livelihoods, and post-military and retirement benefits.

One plaintiff said: “Last year, the Department of Defense announced that transgender people could serve openly.

“I was very relieved and came out as transgender to my commanding officers, who were supportive. My experience has been positive and I am prouder than ever to continue to serve.

“I am married and have three children, and the military has been my life. But now, I’m worried about my family’s future.”

There are estimated to be thousands of transgender service members who are currently serving openly in the Armed Forces, in the wake of Obama-era reforms that allowed them to do so.

Jennifer Levi, Director of GLAD’s Transgender Rights Project, said: “The Commander in Chief has said that transgender service members — people who have served our nation with honor and distinction — are no longer welcome to serve.

“This unjustifiable reversal of policy is devastating to these soldiers and harmful to our country. These plaintiffs put their lives on the line every day for all of us. We can’t afford to lose a single one of them.

Shannon Minter, a transgender legal expert and NCLR Legal Director, said: “Trump’s directive to exclude transgender people from military service has created a tidal wave of harms that have already been felt throughout our armed services.

“Transgender service members have been blindsided by this shift and are scrambling to deal with what it means for their futures and their families.

“The President’s mistreatment of these dedicated troops will serve only to weaken and demoralize our armed forces.”

The lawsuit calls for a “permanent injunction prohibiting the categorical exclusion of transgender people from military service”, and a “declaratory judgment that the President’s directive to categorically exclude transgender people from military service is unconstitutional.”

It alleges that the order violates Equal Protection and Due Process clause of the Fifth Amendment.

It says: “President Trump’s directive to exclude transgender people from military service discriminates against Plaintiffs based on their sex and transgender status, without lawful justification, in violation of the Equal Protection component of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.

“The categorical exclusion of transgender people from military service lacks a rational basis, is arbitrary, and cannot be justified by sufficient federal interests.”