WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Wednesday he wants transgender people barred from serving in the U.S. military "in any capacity," citing "tremendous medical costs and disruption." This day also marks 69 years ago when President Harry Truman signed the executive order to desegregate the American military.
Trump's announcement on Twitter would reverse the ban that the Obama Administration lifted nearly 13 months ago, opening the armed services to transgender people. Trump did not say what would happen to transgender troops already in the military.
A constitutional law professor at Western Michigan University Cooley law school says the big question is whether gender identity falls under the equal protection clause.
“There’s been a series of cases in the lower courts where they’ve struggled to find out if title 9 and 7 actually reach gender identity," says Devon Schindler, a professor of constitutional law at WMU Cooley law school. "They clearly make it illegal to discriminate based on sex and gender. And the question is whether that encompasses gender identity.”
He also says the president’s concerns over military readiness are unfounded.
“When you’re in the foxhole, you don’t care about the gender identity or sexual orientation of the person who’s with you. You just want a good soldier," Schindler said.
That sentiment echoed by ‘Outfront Kalamazoo’, a resource center for the LGBTQ community in that area.
“Here we have over 15,000 people currently serving in the military who identify as trans," says Jay Maddock, executive director, Outfront Kalamazoo. "Who have dedicated their lives to protecting their country, a country that does not protect their lives. Their right to live the pursuit to happiness, their liberty, and now we’re having a president who cowardly is tweeting to take away their job, and their service to this country. It’s appalling.”
Trump's tweeted proposal contradicts his 2016 campaign trail rhetoric that at times supported the LGBTQ community, when he presented himself as a "friend" of the community. Around that time about a year ago, Kayden Grinwis tells FOX 17 his life changed when he came out as transgender.
"It’s been awesome just to be able to be myself and not have to hide behind anything," said Grinwis.
Now building his marketing career while serving as a Grand Rapids Pride Center board member, Grinwis considered joining the military and says any large medical expense for trans military members is unfounded.
"Being transgender means something different to everybody: not everybody goes on hormones, not everybody has surgeries; it’s who you are, it’s internally," he said. "How you chose to present to the world is a totally different topic."
Agencies like the American Medical Association and research refute the notion of any medical burden for trans military troops. Specifically, the current U.S. Department of Defense Transgender Policy cites the Rand Corporation research it commissioned in 2016. Rand estimated as many as 7,000 people who are trans actively serving the military and up to 4,000 trans in the reserves. Then its research states any increase in active health care costs to be 0.04 to 0.13 percent.
"If someone is willing to fight and die for this country, we owe it to them to pay for their healthcare," said Miriam Aukerman, senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Michigan.
Aukerman assures this ban is discriminatory and will be fought in court.
"By firing people who have been serving, serving honorably, putting their lives on the line for this country, that’s where the cost comes in," said Aukerman.
"You’re going to be throwing away all of that experience, all of that talent simply because you’re afraid of the LGBT community. That’s discrimination and it’s also very expensive discrimination."
The White House did not immediately respond to questions.
At the Pentagon, members of the staff of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis appeared to have been caught unaware by Trump's tweets. A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, referred questions to the White House.
In a brief written statement, Davis said the Pentagon is working with the White House to "address" what he called "the new guidance" from the president. He said the Pentagon will provide revised guidance to Defense Department officials "in the near future."
Transgender service members have been able to serve openly in the military since last year, when former Defense Secretary Ash Carter ended the ban. Since last Oct. 1, they have been able to receive medical care and start formally changing their gender identifications in the Pentagon's personnel system.
Carter also gave the services until July 1 to develop policies to allow people already identifying as transgender to newly join the military. Mattis announced earlier this month that he was giving military chiefs another six months to conduct a review to determine if allowing transgender individuals to enlist in the armed services would affect the "readiness or lethality" of the force.
Already, there are as many as 250 service members in the process of transitioning to their preferred genders or who have been approved to formally change gender within the Pentagon's personnel system, according to several defense officials.
The Pentagon has refused to release any data on the number of transgender troops currently serving. A Rand Corp. study estimated that there are between 2,500 and 7,000 service members on active duty who self-identify as transgender and an additional 1,500 to 4,000 in the reserves. There are about 1.3 million troops in the military.
Trump's decision drew swift outrage from LGBT groups and supporters, as well as lawmakers across political parties.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D - MI, and her spokesperson gave this statement to FOX 17 Wednesday:
"The Trump Administration is playing politics with our nation's military and trying to distract from the important health care debate happening in Congress. Senator Stabenow believes men and women bravely serve in our military and should be able to do so, no matter their identity."
Some lawmakers said this was not the right process for such a policy change.
Sen. John McCain, R - AZ, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the tweet was "another example of why major policy announcements should not be made via Twitter."
McCain said "any American who meets current medical and readiness standards should be allowed to continue serving. There is no reason to force service members who are able to fight, train and deploy to leave the military_regardless of their gender identity." He said there should be no policy changes until the current review is completed and assessed by the secretary of defense, military leaders and Congress.
Some conservative organizations and lawmakers hailed the decision.
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said "we don't need to be experimenting with the military. Plus there's no reason to take on that kind of financial burden."
Meanwhile, LGBT activists have been angered by many of his administration's actions, including the rollback of federal guidance advising school districts to let transgender students use the bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice. Many top members of the administration are long-time foes of LGBT-rights policy changes, including Vice President Mike Pence, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.
As for Grinwis, he says this proposed ban is not as much about hypothetical medical expenses as it is humanity.
"There are trans men and women among everybody and there has been this entire time," said Grinwis.
"And I have yet to see any negative impact of that. So as we continue down whatever path we may choose, just knowing that we’re all just people. I have the same dreams as you, as they fit myself, but I want to be successful in my career, I want to have a family, and that’s no different than anybody else; just like it’s no different than somebody else with diabetes. We’re all in this together, we all want peace in the end. We’ve got to stop fighting each other."
The ACLU is asking anyone who is transgender serving the U.S. military, wanting to serve or their family members to contact them. The ACLU of Michigan can be reached at: (313) 578-6800.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.