U.S. Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) is among the more than 100 members of Congress who are seeking proof from the Trump administration that indicates the Pentagon advised it on banning transgender people from the U.S. military. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Lawmakers Seek Proof Pentagon Advised Trump on Trans Military Ban

BY KAREN OCAMB, WASHINGTON BLADE

Virginia Rep. A. Donald McEachin is spearheading a call for all correspondence and documentation from the Pentagon to show the process that informed President Trump's directive to institute a ban on all transgender military service.

In a letter to Defense Sec. Jim Mattis dated Oct. 10 and signed by 114 members of Congress, including many from California, McEachin writes: "We request information about what discussions or correspondence between the White House and the Pentagon, if any, led President Trump to make his assertion. If senior military or Department of Defense personnel asked that the president ban transgender individuals from military service, we request access to any letters, e-mails, telephone transcripts, meeting logs and minutes or other materials that document such requests."

"We seek information to discover the proof of where and when the Pentagon advised the President that this was the best idea for our country," McEachin said in a press release. "If there is proof then we can evaluate that, if there is no proof then the president lied to the American people once again."

"President Trump clearly has no appreciation for the courage it takes not just serve the country, but to own your identity knowing there are people who will not accept you. He is using terms like 'military readiness' and 'unit cohesion' to hide the abject cruelty and naked bigotry of his action against transgendered servicemembers," out Rep. Mark Takano, the vice ranking member on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, tells the Los Angeles Blade. "This letter is just part of our effort to illuminate the true motivation for his trans ban and restore the respect and dignity that the entire trans community deserves."

As the Blade has previously reported, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff said they were blindsided by Trump's July 26 tweets announcing a reversal of the current military policy allowing open transgender service. In fact, as part of a year-long study of trans service, the RAND Corporation found that open service by transgender individuals would have "no significant impact on unit cohesion or operational readiness." The study moved then-Defense Sec. Ash Carter to lift the ban on trans service, allowing training of all members of the Armed Services to proceed, with only the accessions policy needing final adjustment -- before Trump ordered the whole policy scrapped.

Trump infamously tweeted: "After consultation with my generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow...Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming...victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you."

The Blade's sources indicate that much of the initial discussion for reinstating the trans military ban actually occurred in person and telephonically: Republican Reps. Duncan Hunter and Vicky Hartzler to Freedom Caucus chair Mark Meadows to Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and the Heritage Action to members of Vice President Pence's office and then from Pence to Trump aboard Air Force One.

Since Hartzler got her erroneous information about the cost of healthcare for transgender service members from the Family Research Council and FRC's executive vice president is retired Army Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, there is some speculation Trump's generals and military experts could be from FRC, as well as the list of former military officers Heritage provided during Hartzler's failed legislative attempt to prohibit healthcare for trans service members. Such exchanges may be between White House officials and anti-LGBT activists -- to which the Pentagon did not receive access.

Presumably, the signatories to the congressional letter will make the distinction between false information from anti-advocacy groups and the experience of the real Armed Forces.

The day after the tweets, on July 27, Military.com quoted Joint Chiefs Chair Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford saying that thousands of currently serving transgender troops would serve "indefinitely" until the Pentagon received Trump's proposed ban and studies how to implement it. "There will be no modifications to the current policy until the President's direction has been received by the Secretary of Defense [Jim Mattis] and the Secretary has issued implementation guidance," Dunford said in a memo to the service chiefs and senior enlisted advisers.

Last month, Dunford said he opposes the proposed ban. "I believe that any individual who meets the physical and mental standards ... should be afforded the opportunity to continue to serve," Dunford told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee during his reappointment hearing. He also said that he had already given that advice privately to administration officials. It is unclear if those private conversations are also subject to the congressional request.

It is also unclear if conversations, emails and other forms of documentation from outside advocates and individuals are subject to the request, as well. For instance, a source familiar with the machinations surrounding the ban indicate that advocates have strongly urged Mattis to recruit open transgender individuals with military or national security experience to sit on the panel that will study the issue and present him with recommendations. Would those emails exchanges be given the Congress -- and will any of the documentation be made public?

Since any calls to Trump or Air Force One are classified, it is unclear if any of the signatories to the letter than those with classified clearance, such as California Rep. Adam Schiff, would be able to hear the recordings or see transcripts of telephonic conversations, if recordings were even made. However, phone logs should indicate where and on what dates calls were made from and to whom.

"If the Department has records of any other discussions that might have justified the president's claim, we request to see those materials, as well," the Congressional letter says. "We seek access to these materials in order to determine whether the president, his national security team, and military leaders are actively coordinating policy with one another, or whether the president's transgender ban announcement reflected a breakdown in communication."

"Decades ago senior military leadership and Members of Congress tried to say that a group of people, African-Americans, were not fit to serve and would run at the sight of a battle. I cannot believe that we are here today facing similar discrimination against transgender individuals," McEachin said in his press release. "Transgender individuals are already bravely serving our country and do not need this discriminatory distraction."

"Today, Representative McEachin is standing up for both military personnel and the LGBT community by demanding accountability," said Matthew Thorn, executive director of OutServe-SLDN. "We applaud Representative McEachin for continuing to pursue answers and details of the President's actions. We too will not stop in our legal fight and we look forward to working with Rep. McEachin and all our congressional allies in preventing this ban from coming to fruition."

There are currently four lawsuits against Trump, Mattis and the proposed ban. "The President's abrupt decision to override the military's carefully considered policy on transgender service members showed a shocking disregard not only for the thousands of currently serving transgender troops, including those deployed overseas, but also for the experience and expertise of military leaders," said NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter and GLAD Transgender Rights Project Director Jennifer Levi, who have filed suit with Equality California to stop the ban from moving forward. "We commend the more than 100 Members of Congress who are demanding answers about why the President reversed military policy without input from military advisers. The President's blatant disregard for military judgment destabilizes military operations and weakens our Armed Forces."

This article originally appeared in the Washington Blade and is made available in partnership with the National Gay Media Association.
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