If Emma Shinn were still an active U.S. Marine, she would be in a panic over President Donald Trump’s tweet Wednesday morning barring transgender men and women from serving in the U.S. military in any capacity.
Trump’s tweet just after 9 a.m. offered no guidance to the thousands of transgender men and women serving openly in the military under a policy announced by former President Barack Obama’s Defense Secretary Ashton Carter in June 2016. Trump’s sudden reversal caught many in and out of Washington, D.C., by surprise.
“I don’t think any good can come out of discriminating against our brave servicemen and women,” said Shinn, a transgender woman who retired from the Marines in 2014 after serving in Iraq as an infantry platoon sergeant in Fallujah and as a judge advocate.
“They relied on assurances by our government that they could serve openly and they detrimentally relied upon that and to kick them out now, given their courage in serving openly and being a face of trans service members, I think that’s incredibly sad,” she said.
How and when a policy change will take effect is unclear.
“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,” Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford wrote in a letter.
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Shinn is a defense lawyer outside of Denver, Colorado, and co-founder of the Colorado Name Change Project, which provides pro-bono legal services for transgender men and women who want to change their names and gender designations. As a Marine, she was out as queer but not as transgender, she said.
She said she was not surprised by Trump’s decision, given his choice of the conservative Mike Pence as his vice presidential running mate and despite Trump’s claim that he, unlike his rival Hillary Clinton, would fight for the LGBT community.
But, she said, “I’m disgusted at President Trump’s rejection of both science and intensive studies that show that trans service members should be allowed to serve openly. And I think that using the expense of medical treatment as an excuse is terrible.”
Trump’s announcement was met with criticism from both Democrats and Republicans. Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said Trump’s tweet showed why major policy announcements should not be made by Twitter.
“There is no reason to force service members who are able to fight, train, and deploy to leave the military—regardless of their gender identity,” he said in a statement. “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 that no new policy was appropriate until the Department of Defense had completed a study it was conducting on medical obligations that it would incur and the effect on military readiness.
Other studies — by the Rand Corp. last year and one published in the New England Journal of Medicine the year before — found that the cost of extending gender transition-related health care coverage to transgender personnel would be negligible. The Rand Corp, for example, calculated that health care costs for active personnel would increase by between $2.4 million and $8.4 million a year, representing an increase of between 0.04 percent to 0.13 percent. It also found that countries such as Canada and the United Kingdom saw no effect on military readiness.
But Trump emphasized both of those issues in his 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,” the president wrote on Twitter.
A statement from the Transgender American Veterans Association and the American Veterans for Equal Rights called the decision insulting. Current policies require that transgender recruits must complete gender transition before they can enter the military, the statement said.
“Mr. Trump is simply denying entry into the military to capable male and female volunteers no different from any other man or woman,” it said. “The citizens of the United States require a military governed by carefully considered policies and not by early morning tweet storms from a President who neither understands the current policy nor cares about the human cost of defending our nation’s liberty.”
One transgender airman told the Air Force Times Wednesday that he would go to court to remain in the military.
“I would like to see them try to kick me out of my military,” Staff Sgt. Logan Ireland said. “I would challenge them [in court]. You are not going to deny me my right to serve my country when I am fully qualified and able and willing to give my life.”
And former SEAL Kristin Beck, a transgender woman, told the Tampa Bay Times that Trump’s decision would cost more in lawsuits that any savings.
“You are talking about potentially billions of dollars,” Beck said. “That is a waste of money.”
The wife of a soldier whose 14-year-old daughter is transgender said that she burst into tears when she heard the news. Amanda Brewer of Virginia is worried that the military’s health care system will cut coverage of her daughter’s treatment, which was included only after the policy welcoming transgender troops was announced last year.
In Dallas, Sean Sala, a LGBT advocate who is gay and who served in the U.S. Navy under the “Don't ask, don't tell” policy, said he was angry but also heartbroken.
“I'm honestly heartbroken and I want people to know that this is wrong,” he said.
Sala said he knew how it felt to serve the country, in some cases doing a better job than other service members, and then be rejected.
At a press conference on New York's Long Island Wednesday afternoon, Joanne Borden, a transgender woman who is a veteran of World War II, said she knew other transgender women who served in Korea and Vietnam.
“But now they are not good enough to be who they are,” Borden said.
“It's a step toward the Middle Ages,” she said.
Later in the day, at a rally in New York City's Times Square, Tonya Walker said Trump was “rolling back time.”
“When I was in you couldn't, you weren't allowed to be gay, trans, or anything, you couldn't be out,” said Walker a transgender Army veteran.
Earlier this month, U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, a Republican from Missouri, offered an amendment to the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act that would have cut military funding for transition-related surgeries or hormone therapy treatment. The amendment was defeated.
On Wednesday, she tweeted, “Pleased to hear that @realPresidentTrump shares my readiness and cost concerns, & will be changing this costly and damaging policy #readiness.”
Shinn challenged the assertion that transgender service members affected morale or readiness. Forcing out trained troops who are already serving honorably and who have done nothing but be who they are would be a terrible waste of talent, she said.
“And definitely not the small government that Republicans profess to believe in,” she said.