Top US general says no changes yet to transgender policy

WASHINGTON, July 27 (Reuters) - The United States' top general told the military on Thursday there had been no change yet to Pentagon policy on transgender personnel, after President Donald Trump's announcement of his plans to ban them appeared to catch senior officers by surprise.

Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, began his note to service chiefs, commanders and senior enlisted leaders by acknowledging the uncertainty that followed Trump's announcement.

"I know there are questions about yesterday's announcement on the transgender policy by the President," Dunford wrote.

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"We should all be guided by the principle that any American who wants to serve our country and is able to meet the standards should have the opportunity to do so — and should be treated as the patriots they are," McCain said.

(Photo credit BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi noted in a statement that the date of Trump's announcement coincided with the date President Harry Truman desegregated the military in 1948.

"Sixty-nine years later, President Trump has chosen this day to unleash a vile and hateful agenda that will blindside thousands of patriotic Americans already serving with honor and bravery," Pelosi said. "This disgusting ban will weaken our military and the nation it defends."

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama was first told of Trump's announcement during a CNN interview, responding that he wanted to read the policy's wording but was sure the Senate will hold hearings on the matter. "You ought to treat everybody fairly and you ought to give everybody a chance to serve," he said.

(Photo by Zach Gibson/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, an Iraq War veteran who lost her legs in combat, called the ban "discriminatory and counterproductive to our national security."

(Photo by Zach Gibson/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

"When my Black Hawk helicopter was shot down in Iraq, I didn't care if the American troops risking their lives to help save me were gay, straight, transgender or anything else. All that mattered was they didn't leave me behind," Duckworth said in a statement. "If you are willing to risk your life for our country and you can do the job, you should be able to serve — no matter your gender identity, sexual orientation, or race."

(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

When Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah was asked whether he stood with the state's transgender community, Hatch responded "Yes" on Twitter, then released a longer statement saying "I don't think we should be discriminating against anyone."

Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown said in a statement the military "should not turn away anyone who is willing and able to serve this country and help keep Americans safe."

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The ban is "discrimination, plain and simple," Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris of California tweeted.

Source: Twitter

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey wrote that Trump is "wrong" and transgender service members are "heroes like anyone else risking their lives to defend us."

Source: Twitter

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

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"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," Dunford said in the message, first reported by Reuters.

Dunford then made the assurance that the U.S. military would "treat all of our personnel with respect."

Trump issued his surprise announcement on Wednesday morning in a series of Twitter postings, saying he would ban transgender people from the U.S. military, a move appealing to some in his conservative political base but creating vast uncertainty for active-duty and reserve transgender service members, who say they number in the thousands.

SEE ALSO: Mattis was on vacation when Trump tweeted transgender ban, and he was reportedly 'appalled' by it

The action came on the same day that the Trump administration told a U.S. appeals court in New York that federal law does not ban discrimination against gay employees, a sharp reversal of the position Democratic former President Barack Obama took.

As a presidential candidate, Trump last year vowed to fight for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people. His decision drew condemnation from rights groups and some lawmakers in both parties as politically motivated discrimination. But it was also praised by conservative activists and some of his fellow Republicans.

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The @ACLU calls Pres Trump's transgender policy statement "an outrageous and desperate action."
Trump's ban on Transgender Americans serving in the U.S. Military is an assault on the LGBT+ community and should not be taken lightly.
Donald Trump said transgender people can no longer serve in "any capacity" in the military What about the thousands already serving?
Thousands of brave transgender Americans serving our nation right now proudly prove you wrong, President Trump. https://t.co/OVyYKzjSQG
It's official: the only people Donald Trump has ever paid back are Russia and the religious right. https://t.co/7I8hUnEADw
Trump announced transgender ban while his Defense Secretary was ON VACATION. Essentially confirms a political decision from WH, not DOD led
Trump, in 2016: "Thank you to the LGBT community! I will fight for you." Trump, now: US will not allow transgender ppl to serve in military.
Trump added $15 billion to military funding but can’t swing the “medical costs” of transgender soldiers.
Of course Trump goes after the transgender. That is what weak bullies do when their egos are threatened--attack the vulnerable.
This morning, President Trump conducted his latest policy roll out via Twitter this time assaulting our brave transgender service members.
Combat vet @SenDuckworth calls new WH transgender military policy "discriminatory and counterproductive to our nati… https://t.co/b6WqqTaH8g
I grew up in a military w/ LGBT people serving in the shadows. We can't let DT turn back the clock on our brave, trans soldiers. #RISEUP
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The White House said Trump had "extensive discussions with his national security team," and that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was informed after the president made the decision on Tuesday to go ahead.

But one official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Dunford, in a separate message sent more narrowly to heads of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force, acknowledged that Trump's announcement on Wednesday was "unexpected."

Trump cited "tremendous medical costs and disruption" as a justification for the ban, a point disputed by experts and advocates for allowing military service to be determined by an individual's capabilities, not gender identity or sexual preference.

ORDERS VIA TWITTER?

Trump's tweets stoked alarm among some senior military officers and Pentagon civilians, who were caught off guard by it, three general officers in two services said early on Thursday.

"I hope our commander in chief understands that we don't transmit orders via Twitter, and that he can't, either," one said by telephone, speaking on the condition of anonymity

SEE ALSO: Pro-LGBT Ivanka Trump tweet being used against her after military ban on transgender people

"Even if this were an order, implementing it legally would take considerable time, if it's even possible."

Trump's threat to ban transgender service members unleashed a storm of legal threats from advocates who say they are seeking plaintiffs who want to sue.

Trump's surprise tweets did not make clear when a ban reversing Obama's policy to allow transgender people to openly serve would go into effect, nor whether it applies to serving members of the military or those wishing to join.

But if the Defense Department actively roots out transgender people and discharges them from the military, the Pentagon is likely to face an especially contentious fight, legal experts say.

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"There's no valid justification for excluding transgender people from the military," said Jon Davidson, legal director for LGBT rights group Lambda Legal.

It was also unclear whether it might go beyond active-duty forces and apply to members of the reserve.

Indiana National Guard reservist Cameron St. Andrew, who resigned from full-time service after the November election, told Reuters he was concerned about his status.

"I try to be tough about it," he said, but added: "It breaks your spirit down."

One active-duty U.S. military officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said senior officials were not consulted.

"We're scratching our heads and asking where the hell this came from," the officer said by phone, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"Maybe the president is in step with some members of Congress and some voters, but he is out of step with today's military. Our service personnel today don't give a damn about the personal lives of their comrades so long as they know they can trust them when it counts."

(Reporting by Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali; additional reporting by John Walcott, Letitia Stein, Daniel Trotta; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Jonathan Oatis)

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