Hours after President Donald Trump tweeted that transgender individuals would no longer be accepted or allowed in the military, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed a largely symbolic executive order reinforcing the state’s nondiscrimination policies in the military.
“President Trump’s announcement that he plans to ban transgender individuals from serving in our military is ignorant and profoundly troubling,” Malloy said in a press release before signing the executive order.
Trump is planning to direct the Pentagon to reverse a policy initially approved by the Defense Department under President Barack Obama that allowed transgender individuals to openly serve in the military.
Last month, Defense Secretary James Mattis announced he would delay for six months a decision on whether transgendered recruits could join the military. Trump’s tweets now indicate that policy will never be implemented and cast doubt on the future of those transgender individuals now serving in the armed forces.
“The reality,” Malloy said, “is that a person’s gender identity or expression has nothing to do with their willingness or ability to defend our nation. Any able person who wishes to serve in the military should have that right – regardless of race, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.”
Niko Branco, a transgender man who is in the process of joining the Connecticut National Guard, said he feels the same way.
“I’m pretty disappointed because I’ve been trying to enlist for a while now,” Branco said. “I just want to fight for my country.”
After hearing about the tweet, Branco immediately called his sergeant who assured him that the tweet is not yet law.
The National Guard Bureau confirmed that nothing has changed today because of the president’s message. The Department of Defense must await guidance from the White House.
Malloy’s order “directs… armed forces of the state to take no action that discriminates against service members…unless superseded by federal law, regulation, or formal directive from the U.S. Department of Defense.”
Malloy spokeswoman Kelly Donnelly said the governor signed his executive order knowing that a formal change in federal policy would supersede state action.
“We recognize our ability is constrained in this instance,” said Donnelly. “But by doing the executive order it sends a clear message that the governor stands with the transgender community, especially those in service.”
Just over one year ago, on June 30, 2016, transgender individuals were officially allowed to serve openly in the military. Since then, the Pentagon has been responsible for covering the medical costs of those in uniform who wished to undergo gender transition. The Department of Defense was currently performing a six-month review of how the new transgender policies have affected the military.
Trump explained his reasoning for banning transgender service in a following tweet.
“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 wrote.
According to a RAND study done during the Obama administration, when allowing open transgender individuals into the military was under discussion, health care costs would increase by between $2.4 million and $8.4 million annually by extending gender transition health care coverage to transgender individuals in service. This represents a 0.04- to 0.13-percent increase in health care expenses, according to the study.
Nevertheless, an amendment supported by GOP conservatives to the defense spending bill that would block the use of tax dollars to pay for sex-reassignment surgeries and hormone treatment for transgender military personnel will be considered this week.
There are between 2,500 and 7,000 transgender individuals in active duty and another 1,500 to 4,000 in the reserves, according to the RAND study.
The idea of using tax dollars to pay for sex-reassignment surgeries for transgender military personnel has been in discussion in the House for weeks, blocking the passage of a bill that includes many of Trump’s campaign promises.
If Trump follows through on his tweet and bans transgender individuals from serving in the military it will be the third reversal of an Obama-era executive order that protected LGBT rights. The first two were the protections on transgender bathroom use in public schools and restrictions on discrimination against federal contractors for their gender or sexuality.
“This rash and surprising Tweet contradicts the Department of Defense’s previous policy decision to allow transgender service-members to serve openly, and constitutes official discrimination,” said Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal in a statement in response to Trump’s tweet.
As of now, the White House has no timeline for when policies would begin to change in the Department of Defense.
“The President’s tweet this morning regarding transgender Americans in the military is yet another example of why major policy announcements should not be made via Twitter,” said Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. John McCain. “The [president’s] statement was unclear. The Department of Defense has already decided to allow currently-serving transgender individuals to stay in the military, and many are serving honorably today.”
Natasha Lombardi, the president of the board of directors for the Connecticut Transadvocacy Coalition, was not surprised by either the President’s message or delivery.
“I was not very surprised at all when it happened,” Lombardi said. “But it scares me. It’s a slap in the face to the entire LGBT community after three times he told us he would be a better friend to us than anyone ever would.”
Robin McHaelen, the executive director of True Colors, a Hartford nonprofit that works to serve sexual minority youth and their families, called this announcement a diversion from the national conversations on healthcare and Russia.
“Trump is a master at diverting people’s attention from what is happening,” McHaelen said. “The transgender community is an easy target and scapegoat. He wants us to fight about this and not think about Russia or healthcare.”
McHaelen said the first thing she thought of when she heard the announcement was one of the high school students who comes to True Colors and has always wanted to join the military.
“The first thing I thought of was how am I going to tell our little trans kid,” McHaelen said. “One of our little trans boys last week was talking about being so excited he was going to (ROTC) bootcamp.”
After being rejected by his family, ROTC has been a stabilizing and supportive community for him, McHaelen said.
When he comes back from boot camp, “I will tell him that the tweet is not the end of it… , policies have to be changed first.”
Washington reporter Ana Radelat contributed to this report.