August 5, 2017 at 10:06 am PDT | by Karen Ocamb
Sec of Defense Mattis’ memo: ‘Do the right thing’ after White House OKs trans military ban

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis tells senators on the Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee that President Donald (Photo by Defense Department)

The “Memorandum For All Department of Defense Employees” from Sec. of Defense James Mattis was released around the same time the news broke that the White House Counsel’s Office had cleared the new ban on open transgender military service, approved by President Donald Trump. The revised policy is expected to be sent to Mattis for his review and implementation.

Nowhere in the Aug. 4 memo is the word “transgender” mentioned. But since “A Guidance Policy for Open Transgender Service Phase Out” contains no language protecting currently serving transgender servicemembers against harassment, including of those in combat and on foreign bases, it appears Mattis felt it necessary to remind the troops and other Defense Department employees of the high ethical standards expected of U.S. military personnel, setting “an honorable example in all we do.”

Using a baseball analogy, Mattis writes: “I expect every member of the Department to play the ethical midfield. I need you to be aggressive and show initiative without running the ethical sidelines, where even one misstep will have you out of bounds. I want our focus to be on the essence of ethical conduct: doing what is right at all times, regardless of the circumstances or whether anyone is watching.”

The ethical dilemma is a direct result of the insulting sudden reversal—apparently a political sop by Trump to the Religious Right—of the well-developed 2016 policy announcing the implementation of open service by trans individuals. The plan for trans inclusion included a timeline for rollout and review, as well as guidance on medical issues.

“This policy was crafted through a comprehensive and inclusive process that included the leadership of the Armed Services, medical and personnel experts across the Department, transgender Service members, outside medical experts, advocacy groups, and the RAND Corporation, “ says the “Transgender Service Member Policy Implementation Fact Sheet.”  “Starting today: Otherwise qualified Service members can no longer be involuntarily separated, discharged, or denied reenlistment or continuation of service solely for being transgender individuals.”

And, the 2016 fact sheet said: “Any discrimination against a Service member based on their gender identity is sex discrimination and may be addressed through the Department’s equal opportunity channels.”

An extrapolation of Mattis’ memo suggests that he is not uncomfortable with trans servicemembers getting a lawyer and preparing to fight the ban coming from Trump’s White House.

“To ensure each of us is ready to do what is right, without hesitation, when ethical dilemmas arise, we must train and prepare ourselves and our subordinates,” says Mattis. “Our prior reflection and our choice to live by an ethical code will reinforce what we stand for, so we remain morally strong especially in the face of adversity.”

Mattis’ memo in some ways reflects the ethical standards so well articulated by Adm. Mike Mullen, former chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in his appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee in February 2010, when he argued that gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly in America’s Armed Forces.

“We have in place a policy that forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens,” Mullen said. “For me, personally, it comes down to integrity: Theirs as an individual, ours as an institution.”

In his Aug. 4 memo, Mattis says: “Through our example and through coaching of all hands, we will ensure ethical standards are maintained. Never forget, our willingness to take the Oath of Office and to accept the associated responsibilities means that even citizens who have never met us trust us to do the right thing, never abusing our position nor looking the other way when we see something wrong. I am proud to serve alongside you.”

Though Trump said he had discussed the ban with his generals,  Mattis had only been informed of Trump’s position just before the infamous tweets on July 26, which blindsided the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Republican Senators with reputations for caring about the military were shocked by the announcement of the ban.

“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,” war hero Sen. John McCain 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.”

“People who are transgender, they don’t choose to be transgender — they’re born that way — and why should we hold that against them?” Republican Senator Orrin Hatch told MSNBC.

Iowa Senators Ernst and Grassley opposed the proposed ban, too. The Cedar Rapids area TV station KWWL News 7 posted this on their website.

—“Reaction to his tweet was unsurprisingly swift across the country.  In Iowa, Senator Joni Ernst, a 23-year military veteran, says she disagrees with President Trump.  The Des Moines Register reports that Ernst spokesperson, Brook Hougesen, wrote in an email that the senator “believes what is most important is making sure service members can meet the physical training standards, and the willingness to defend our freedoms and way of life.” He continued, “[w]hile she believes taxpayers shouldn’t cover the costs associated with a gender reassignment surgery, Americans who are qualified and can meet the standards to serve in the military should be afforded that opportunity.”

Senator Ernst is the first female combat veteran to serve in the United States Senate. She also served as a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard.

Meanwhile, Senator Chuck Grassley spoke with multiple Iowa reporters during his weekly phone call with them Wednesday afternoon.

“We have certain standards to get in the military: weight standards, education standards, the ability to do a job, those physical capabilities.  And if you’re a person – man or woman or any other category you want to name – then you meet those standards, you ought to be able to get in, ” Grassley said.” —

With Trump on a 17-day vacation and Congress out on their August recess, the fallout for this political maneuver that could dramatically harm the lives and careers of 15,000 transgender servicemembers has fallen to Sec. of Defense Mattis.

Early Saturday morning, Defense Department spokesperson Paul R. Haverstick Jr., LTC USARMY OSD PA (US) told the Washington Blade’s Chris Johnson: There is no new information to report. We will send out an updated statement when we receive guidance.”

Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN are gearing up for a fight.

“The move to purge transgender military personnel is dishonorable to the thousands of transgender men and women who are serving our country with courage and who are integral parts of our armed services. The safety of all service members – transgender or not – is undermined by a policy like this that distracts from the important missions they have for no valid reason. It is also a slap in the face of the leadership who have worked diligently to develop and implement the current policy which has been in place for more than a year without incident,” says transgender military veteran Sasha Buchert, a Staff Attorney at Lambda Legal.

“The tweeted military trans ban has already been condemned by more than 56 retired generals and admirals and a large percentage of Republican and Democratic senators and representatives.  A majority of Americans support allowing transgender troops to serve openly,” the statement continues. “This mean-spirited and discriminatory attack on our community is capricious, irrational, and clearly driven by anti-LGBT forces in the administration who care more about harming transgender people than keeping our nation safe. It is clearly unconstitutional. Lambda Legal has a long history of fighting for LGBT service members, and, teaming up with OutServe-SLDN, we’re more than ready to fight like hell again. See you in court, President Trump.”

 

 

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