Female, transgender troops fear reversal of Obama policies

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Women and transgender people in the military are fearful that President-elect Donald Trump’s administration will roll back President Obama’s policies on their service, advocates say.

Last December, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that all combat jobs would be open to women, with no exceptions. Then in June, Carter announced that transgender troops could begin serving openly immediately.

{mosads}Both policy changes are still being implemented and can be reversed unilaterally by the next administration — and that’s just what some of Trump’s potential nominees have signaled they’d like to do.

“Reversing the decision to allow women to serve in military combat positions and ending the ban on allowing transgender troops to serve openly in our military would destroy so much of the recent progress made by our military and country,” Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) said in a statement to The Hill.

“I trust President-elect Trump will recognize that women, like his daughter, are more than capable of taking on roles that were historically held only by men. I also trust that he will find there is no reason to ban the estimated 15,500 transgender military members currently serving our country with honor and distinction the opportunity to continue with their service without being forced to live a lie.”

During the campaign, Trump blasted “political correctness” when asked during an October town hall about “social engineering” in the military. In September, he defended a 2013 tweet in which he blamed military sexual assault on having men and women serve together.

Still, some evangelicals have expressed skepticism that Trump will be tough on LGBT issues based on comments he has made. Over the weekend, he said gay marriage is “settled” law.

Advocates are examining the public statements of Trump’s possible defense and national security appointees for clues about how the issues might be handled in the next administration.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), reportedly one of the leading candidates to become Defense secretary, has expressed some skepticism about Carter’s order on women in combat.

In a hearing, Sessions focused on a Marine Corps study that found mixed-gender combat units did not perform as well as male-only units. He praised the service’s “careful evaluation” and said the Senate should follow that lead in the “smartest way.”

The Human Rights Campaign gives Sessions a 0 percent rating on LGBT issues, though Sessions has not commented publicly on Carter’s lifting of the transgender ban.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, another top Trump adviser, slammed “political correctness” in the military during his speech at the Republican National Convention. He also declared that “war is not about bathrooms,” an apparent reference to transgender troops.

Stephen Hadley, a former national security adviser to President George W. Bush, has not commented directly on women in combat or transgender troops but did sign an amicus brief in 2013 supporting gay marriage.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), who has been floated for an administration position, supported opening combat jobs to women as long as standards weren’t lowered. In 2015, she said it was up to the military to to determine whether transgender troops could serve openly without affecting readiness.

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), an early Trump supporter whose name has been floated for various positions including deputy secretary of Defense or Army secretary, has been one of Congress’s most vocal opponents of both policy changes.

Since Trump’s win, Hunter has expressed hope the Pentagon can return to a “warrior mentality,” including reversing the “social engineering” of the Obama years, said his chief of staff, Joe Kasper.

On women in combat, Hunter thinks the first step should be to immediately allow the Marine Corps exceptions for the infantry and special operations forces, Kasper said. From there, the issue can be studied further, he added.

On transgender service members, Kasper acknowledged a full reversal might be difficult since troops have already come out.

“There’s so many different ways to approach it,” Kasper said. “For the people who came forward in the time they did, there might be some grandfathering.”

Since October, about 100 troops from across the services have reportedly asked for an official gender change.

October was also the start of a nine-month period for service leaders to train their forces on the new transgender policy. At the end of that period, transgender enlistment is supposed to begin.

A leading researcher on LGBT issues in the military said on background that reversing the transgender policy would be as difficult as getting “toothpaste back in the tube.”

“Once a policy is puts in place and implemented, they really don’t like to go back on that,” said Ashley Broadway-Mack, president of the American Military Partner Association. “It’s not good for morale.”

Since the election, Broadway-Mack said she’s been contacted by more than 100 LGBT troops and their family members worried about what Trump’s administration will do. Their fears extend beyond the transgender policy to religious freedom laws, gay marriage and the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that was reversed by Congress.

“There are a lot of people that are just not sure what to think,” she said. “And for good reason. We really don’t know what’s going to happen, and the unknown can be a little nerve-wracking.”

Pentagon officials have estimated the integration of women into combat jobs previously closed to them would take up to three years.

The two services most affected were the Army and Marines. In the Army, 245 female enlisted soldiers and recruits are set for training for combat roles in 2017; 10 women have successfully completed the initial training course to prepare officers for an infantry unit; and one woman is already serving as an Army infantry officer.

Meanwhile, in the Marines, no woman has completed the Infantry Officer Course, though dozens have tried. One woman passed the first test to become a special operator, but did not score high enough to continue.

The Marines were the only service branch to request an exemption to the policy after its study on mixed-gender combat units. Carter denied the request.

Kate Germano, a recently retired Marine Corps officer who is now chief operating officer at the Service Women’s Action Network, accused the Marines of slow rolling the process. And despite the Army making considerable progress, she said, all branches will listen if Trump tells them to stop integrating.

“We have a system of civilian control of the military with the commander in chief,” she said. “The Army general and the Marine general will say ‘aye, aye’ and execute orders.”

Tags Donald Trump Jeff Sessions Kelly Ayotte

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