Soldiers stand as a performance of the National Anthem plays. Photo by Scott Ball.
San Antonio is home to one of the nation’s largest active-duty and retired military populations. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Updated 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 27:

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs said Thursday there will be “no modifications” to the military’s transgender policy until the president clarifies what he meant. Under current policy, transgender military service members are serving in the U.S. military.

“I know there are questions about yesterday’s announcement on the transgender policy by the President,” Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated in a memo to military leaders. “There will be no modifications to the current policy until the President’s direction has been received by the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary has issued implementation guidance.”

President Donald Trump announced Wednesday morning on Twitter that transgender people would be barred from serving in the U.S. military “in any capacity,” a change from the Department of Defense (DoD) policy as it has evolved since 2016.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg called Trump’s new ban offensive.

“It’s certainly discriminatory. I question its constitutionality. The notion that one’s gender is in any way connected to patriotism and service to the country is totally offensive,” Nirenberg stated in an email to the Rivard Report.

U.S. Rep Joaquín Castro (D-San Antonio) also condemned Trump’s action.

“America’s armed forces need every patriotic person willing to serve and defend our country,” he stated in a news release. “The President’s policy announcement today is gratuitously discriminatory and will damage our national security. I’m grateful to all service members who have put their lives on the line for the United States.”

U.S. Rep Lloyd Doggett (D-Austin) also responded critically.

“The master of distraction is at it again. Caught up in the swirl of misconduct surrounding the Trump family, he issues yet another ban to change the subject. Tweeting that he will not ‘allow’ an estimated 2,500 out of 1.3 million service members ‘to serve in any capacity’ does a great disservice to our country. It puts politics over safety. We should honor and protect all, no matter their gender, who risk their lives to defend our freedoms.”

Trump’s tweet garnered support from Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller.

“I am thrilled by President Trump’s decision. I just wonder why it took so damn long. The United States Military is not the place for leftist social experimentation,” Miller said in a statement to the Texas Tribune.

U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) was the only Texas Republican to vocalize his opposition to Trump’s tweets, according to the Texas Tribune.

“Anybody who meets all military requirements should have the opportunity to put on a uniform and serve our great country,” Hurd stated.

On June 30 Secretary of Defense James Mattis recommended that the military services defer accessing transgender applicants into the military until Jan. 1, 2018.

The military services have been reviewing their plans for transgender service members and were to provide input to the Secretary of Defense on projected impacts on military readiness after completing internal reviews over the next six months.

Before Wednesday, the DoD was operating under a transgender policy for service members that stated “transgender Service members may serve openly, and they can no longer be discharged or otherwise separated from the military solely for being transgender individuals.” Then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced the policy decision overturning the ban on transgender service across all branches of service June 30, 2016.

A 2016 Rand report states there are 2,450 active-duty transgender soldiers and about 1,510 in the reserve. The report, however, estimates the range at anywhere between 1,320 and 6,630 total transgender service members in the U.S. military, because some soldiers may not have identified themselves as transgender. Data for San Antonio’s military community was not available.

According to the DoD policy timeline for allowing transgender service members to serve openly, the transgender policy and supporting training to implement was to be completed by July 1, 2017, with the new policy fully in force by then.

Then-Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel first began a review of the military’s transgender policy in May 2014, which was continued under his successor, Secretary Carter. Before 2014, DoD guidelines written decades earlier had prohibited transgender individuals from serving in the military.

Reasons for the 2016 policy allowing transgender service members to serve openly included the need to ensure a robust fighting force.

“[We in] the Defense Department and the military need to avail ourselves of all talent possible … to remain what we are now – the finest fighting force the world has ever known,” Carter stated in a 2016 DoD online article. “Our mission is to defend this country, and we don’t want barriers unrelated to a person’s qualifications to serve preventing us from recruiting or retaining the soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine who can best accomplish the mission.”

Carter also stated that a DoD working group’s analysis of 18 allied militaries, including those of the United Kingdom, Australia, and Israel, and a Rand Corporation analysis concluded there were minimal impacts on military readiness caused by allowing transgender service members to serve openly.

Before transgender service members could serve openly, they had to seek out-of-pocket medical care from private doctors who determined whether certain procedures were necessary. Then-Secretary Carter also quoted the Rand study’s findings that health care costs would represent “an exceedingly small proportion” of DoD’s overall health care expenditures.

Despite a June 2016 tweet thanking the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community and stating he would “fight for you,” Trump’s tweets Wednesday referenced “tremendous medical costs and disruption” from transgender service members openly serving in the U.S. military.

The same Rand report estimated “costs of gender transition-related health care treatment are relatively low,” increasing costs by “between $2.4 million and $8.4 million annually, representing a 0.04 to 0.13% increase in active-component health care expenditures.”

A Trump administration official stated that the president’s decision to announce the military’s transgender policy shift was at least in part motivated by conservatives who had opposed government spending legislation that might put money toward transgender health services.

All media inquiries to the DoD are being referred to the White House.

Navy Captain Jeff Davis, director of Defense Press Operations issued this statement in response.

“We refer all questions about the President’s statements to the White House. We will continue to work closely with the White House to address the new guidance provided by the Commander-in-Chief on transgender individuals serving the military. We will provide revised guidance to the Department in the near future.”

Secretary of Defense Mattis is reported to be on vacation.

In the hours following Trump’s announcement, Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) filed an amendment to a massive national security spending bill, expected to reach the House floor this week, that would effectively overturn Trump’s ban on transgender individuals serving in the armed forces.

Local advocates have also reacted to the transgender military service ban.

Emmett Schelling, president of the San Antonio Gender Association and director for the Alamo region of TENT, said after having to cope with the the Texas State Senate passing the so-called “bathroom bill” “waking up to the commander in chief tweeting that transgender people are a burden to the military” was disheartening. He feels this is “disrespecting the many trans veterans serving, especially in San Antonio, and it’s using this community for political reasons.

“Especially as ‘Military City,’ I think this has come as a shock to the trans community,” Schelling said. “Between the State and the commander-in-chief, we feel singled out. For people who are willing to sacrifice their lives in service to this country, it’s extremely disappointing.

“I don’t think life is going to be better for transgender people in Texas anytime soon, but we’ll keep fighting,” Schelling said.

“Every patriotic American who’s qualified should be able to serve in the military,” said Ashley Smith, an architect and transgender woman living in San Antonio. “There’s tens of thousands of transgender veterans. To dismiss so many people who have served with honor who are on active duty with a series of tweets, that is just insulting.”

A photo of Smith and Gov. Greg Abbott went viral last week after she met the governor at his re-election announcement. Abbott’s pet legislation Senate Bill 3, the so-called “bathroom bill,” would prohibit Smith and thousands of transgender individuals from using the restroom that matches their gender identity. Abbott and Smith are smiling in the photo that she posted online, identifying herself as transgender, and the text #Bathroombuddy.

“The way the Trump administration has been laying out these discriminatory sentiments, especially today’s about transgender military service members, many of these accusations were examined closely and they did not impact upon military readiness,” said Robert Salcido, statewide field coordinator for Equality Texas. “To say it does now is a bold faced lie and only further pushes our transgender community into isolation.

“We are battling transgender bills that endanger the lives of our transgender community whether on the state level or at the national level.”

Iris Gonzalez writes about technology, life science and veteran affairs.