WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he would ban transgender people from the U.S. military, a move appealing to some in his conservative political base but sowing confusion about the fate of thousands of transgender service members.
The surprise announcement by Trump, who as a presidential candidate last year vowed to fight for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people, came in a series of morning Twitter posts. It drew condemnation from rights groups and some lawmakers in both parties as discrimination with purely political motives but was praised by conservative activists and some Republicans.
Trump spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said the administration has not yet decided whether transgender service members already in the military would be immediately thrown out, saying the White House and Pentagon would have to work that out.
The decision reverses Democratic former President Barack Obama’s policy and halts years of efforts to eliminate barriers to military service based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
“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,” Trump tweeted, without naming any of the generals or experts.
“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,” he said.
Sanders said Trump had “extensive discussions with his national security team” and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was informed after the president made the decision on Tuesday.
“This was about military readiness,” Sanders told a briefing. “This was about unit cohesion. This was about resources within the military, and nothing more.”
The Pentagon earlier referred questions about Trump’s decision to the White House.
Critics said the health costs of caring for transgender service members were a tiny portion of the military’s healthcare budget and that Trump’s policy change was based on prejudice.
A Matter of Timing
Trump’s tweet caught some White House officials by surprise.