And then there were none. Despite his hyped-up promises as the Republican presidential nominee to “fight” for LGBT rights, once in power, Reality TV star Donald Trump has ordered or OKed the systematic erasure of all things LGBT from the federal government, as well as the imposition of new policies permitting overt discrimination in the name of “religious freedom.”
Even Trump-whispers Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner failed to stop the advancing avalanche of anti-LGBT discrimination triggered by Vice President Mike Pence and his gang of theocracy-seeking Christian Supremacists, lead by Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and Ryan T. Anderson of the Heritage Foundation.
Many military-minded members of the LGBT community believed Defense Sec. Jim Mattis was standing in the gap protecting us from the whims of the wanna-be authoritarian and his minions. In fact, Mattis is still perceived as the last adult standing against Trump’s Dr. Strangelove-leaning, war-mongering advisors, who former CIA director John Brennan, among others, fear will lead the impressionable president into nuclear war.
“Our country needs confidence that we are going to be able to deal with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin who is once again flexing his muscles on the military front, that we can deal with North Korea,” Brennan told MSNBC’s Deadline White House. “If we have somebody in the Oval Office who is unstable, inept, inexperienced and also unethical, we really have rough waters ahead.”
And, Brennan added, projecting more pain for the country: “I do hope we are going to be able to get through this very, very difficult chapter in our history, without incurring damage that could be long-lasting.”
But now Mattis, too, has turned weak in the knees in face of Trump’s unpredictability and Pence’s presumed threats. Perhaps Mattis thought he was playing the long game when he mislead and betrayed his LGBT servicemembers by agreeing with and making the Feb. 23 recommendations to implement Trump’s ban on transgender Americans serving openly in the US armed forces. Perhaps the Marine field commander in him took over—a willingness to sacrifice troops to achieve what superiors claim is an important goal.
But the former Marine forfeited more than his trans troops—Mattis surrendered his honor, integrity, and the trust LGBT Americans and allies placed in him. Many had come to believe he was in the mold of retired hero Admiral Mike Mullen, who in Feb 2010 as the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress
he favored repealing the horrific anti-gay Clinton-era “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
“No matter how I look at the issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which 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 individuals and ours as an institution….I also believe that the great young men and women of our military can and would accommodate such a change,” continued Mullen. “I never underestimate their ability to adapt.”
And it wasn’t a one-time thing for Mullen. He repeated his position to make sure the public—especially potential young recruits—knew the all-volunteer military prized integrity as well as merit.
“I think it’s time that the law and the policy change. And the fundamental piece for that – of that, for me, is the whole issue of integrity in asking young people to come in to a military and essentially live a lie in an institution that values integrity at the highest level,” Mullen told NPR months after his congressional testimony.
Indeed, studies were done, training was conducted, DADT was repealed and there have been no incidents substantiating the Religious Right’s dire warnings about erosion of military readiness and unit cohesion. On that basis, Mattis’ predecessor Defense Sec. Ash Carter, instituted a year of studies and training in preparation for lifting the ban on open transgender service, since trans service members such as Navy SEAL Team Six’s Kristin Beck—awarded 27 honors, including the Bronze Star and Purple Heart during her 20 years of service—had been left behind with the repeal of DADT.
Even before Mattis’ reaction to Trump’s infamous trans ban tweet, there was reason to believe he would be an overall strategic thinker like Mullen and try to update the military’s internal policies that lag behind most civilian workplace equality policies familiar to young recruits. And he understood the problem of politics.
“Those who argue that healthy civil-military relations are characterized by comity and a low number of disagreements between civilian and military decision makers ignore or discount the possibility that this may be the result of promoting yes men who are politically safe and who will not really fulfill their obligation to provide their best military advice as forcefully as possible,” Mattis wrote in his 2016 book Warriors and Citizens: American Views of Our Military.
And Mattis realized the importance of trust.
“Cultural or opinion gaps between the general public and the military community worry us, but there is little evidence that they cause actual harm,” he wrote in 2016. “The mistrust and mutual ignorance that often characterizes relations between high-level civilian and military decision makers is another story: here, misunderstandings and mistrust lead to arbitrary decisions and can do genuine harm both to the military and to US interests.”
During his confirmation hearing in Jan 2017, Mattis did not seem enthusiastic about women or LGBT people in the military but did say there was nothing innate in being a woman or LGBT that excludes them exercising lethal force. “I believe that right now, the policies that are in effect — unless the service chief brings something to me where there has been a problem that has been proven — then I’m not going in with the idea that I am going to review these and right away, start rolling something back,” he told New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.
In June 2017, Mattis did launch a six-month review of the trans accessions policy that was just about completed, but insisted the delay “does not presuppose the outcome of the review.” He said the additional time would ensure he had “the benefit of the views of the military leadership and of the senior civilian officials who are now arriving in the department.”
But he also lobbied against an anti-trans proposal by Republican Reps. Vicky Hartzler and Duncan Hunter to ban medical treatment, leading to the bill’s defeat. Hartzler and Hunter, with Family Research Council head Tony Perkins tagging along, went around Mattis to the White House to meet with fellow evangelical, Mike Pence. Shortly thereafter came Trump’s surprise July 26, 2017 tweet, which went far beyond the proposed law to ban trans from service, period. Perkins told Brietbart News he wasn’t surprised by the tweet and bragged about his access to the White House.
Mattis’ name was not directly linked to the initial responses from the military—but it’s hard to believe the top commanders would publicly utter a word without real or tacit approval from Sec Def, the former four-star Marine General. Though Trump’s July 26 tweet said he had consulted with “my generals” about the abrupt change in policy, the real generals—the Joint Chiefs of Staff, including chairman General Joseph Dunford—said they were blindsided.
The next day, Dunford sent an email to Gen. Mark Milley, chief of staff for the US Army; Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau; Gen. David Goldfein, chief of staff of the US Air Force; Adm. John Richardson, chief of Naval Operations; and Gen. Robert Neller, commandant of the Marine Corps, Buzzfeed reported, about Trump’s “unexpected” announcement. He said the announcement had not changed any policy yet and later followed up with another message: “P.S. When asked, I will state that I was not consulted…..expect that question will come NLT [no later than] my September hearing.” In that Sept. Senate hearing, Dunford said he believed transgender troops should be allowed to continue to serve.
Dunford also told servicemembers there would 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 guidelines.”
“In the meantime, we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect,” Dunford wrote in a memo to the military that was obtained by CNN. “As importantly, given the current fight and the challenges we face, we will all remain focused on accomplishing our assigned missions.”
A week after the tweet, Adm. Paul Zukunft spoke at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, saying his office immediately reached out to the 13 trans members of the Coast Guard.
“I reached out personally to Lt. Taylor Miller, who was featured on the cover of The Washington Post last week,” Zukunft told the Military Times. “If you read that story, Taylor’s family has disowned her. Her family is the United States Coast Guard. And I told Taylor, ‘I will not turn my back. We have made an investment in you, and you have made an investment in the Coast Guard, and I will not break faith.’”
Zukunft also said he reached out to then Department of Homeland Sec. John Kelly—subsequently sworn in as White House Chief of Staff—and that Kelly reached out to Mattis.
“We stood up a tiger team of our JAG officers,” Zukunft said, to figure out how to shield troops, small in numbers but doing “meaningful” work, in the face of an administration mandate.
On Aug. 4, Mattis released a memo saying: “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.”
Until last Friday, March 23, there was ample circumstantial evidence to believe that Mattis would stand up and deliver advice to the Commander-in-Chief many thought he believed in and that had been given to him by real military experts: allow the policy welcoming and supporting trans servicemembers to remain in place.
Instead, Mattis caved to Trump, Pence and Perkins, saying in his Feb. 22 memo that trans servicemembers pose “substantial risks” and allowing some to serve “could undermine readiness, disrupt unit cohesion, and impose an unreasonable burden on the military that is not conducive to military effectiveness and lethality.”
Mattis also says the 2016 RAND Corporation study concluding that trans servicemembers “have minimal impact on readiness and health care costs” for the Pentagon used “heavily caveated data to support its conclusions, glossed over the impacts of health care costs, readiness, and unit cohesion, and erroneously relied on the selective experiences of foreign militaries with different operational requirements than our own.”
“In short,” Mattis said, “this policy issue has proven more complex than the prior administration or Rand assumed.”
The policy is still subject to injunctions imposed by four federal courts which will likely find the ban unconstitutional, concludes Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern in his deep dive into what happened.
“As a result of those four court orders, transgender service members have continued to serve openly, and trans individuals have been allowed to enlist in the military since Jan. 1, 2018,” Stern wrote on March 24. “Yet behind the scenes, a ‘panel of experts’ has been crafting a report, also released on Friday, designed to provide pretextual justification for Trump’s ban. According to multiple sources, Vice President Mike Pence played a leading role in the creation of this report, along with Ryan Anderson, an anti-trans activist, and Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, an anti-LGBTQ lobbying group. Mattis actually supports open transgender service, but he was effectively overruled by Pence, and chose not to spend his limited political capital further defending trans troops. In a memo released on Friday, Mattis encouraged Trump to ban transgender people from enlisting in the military, and to discharge those service members who wish to transition. Trump has now formally adopted these suggestions.”
Zack Ford added to Stern’s reporting.
Also doing a deep dive at ThinkProgress, looking specifically at how that old DADT junk science got into Mattis’ recommendations.
“According to Stern’s reporting, it was true that Mattis favored allowing transgender military service, but Pence ‘effectively overruled’ him,” Ford wrote. “A separate source independently confirmed to ThinkProgress Saturday that Pence was involved, characterizing him as forming his own ad hoc ‘working group,’ including Anderson and Perkins, separate from the panel of experts Mattis had assembled. Though it bears Mattis’ signature, the report released Friday appears to reflect the findings of Pence’s working group and not the committee report that Mattis submitted to Trump last month. Mattis’ original document is not currently publicly available, but it was widely reported that Mattis favored an inclusive approach that resembled what had originally been proposed by Defense Secretary Ash Carter under President Obama in 2016.
How exactly Pence overruled Mattis’ recommendation over the past month the source did not know. But his working group’s influence is apparent. In particular, the report features numerous anti-trans talking points that FRC and other anti-LGBTQ groups have used in various campaigns favoring discrimination against transgender people.”
By affixing his signature to that Pence/Perkins/Anderson-like report, by not telling the truth about how the report came to be—the opposite of what he lead LGBT people to believe for so long—Defense Sec. Mattis has mislead the LGBT community and betrayed the principles of integrity once thought to be an enduring core principle of Marine values. With his imprimatur, he has publicly endorsed the junk science of the anti-LGBT forces, even as the American Psychiatric Association re-issued its opposition to the ban.
Jim Mattis has committed an egregious legacy-damaging sin. Mattis now stands in the Pantheon of military liars with Gen. Westmoreland and Defense Sec. Robert McNamara, who lied to the American people about the war in Vietnam, and the once-beloved Gen. Colin Powell, who lied and presented false information to the world to satisfy President George W. Bush’s eagerness to go to war in Iraq.
Why would any young person—LGBT or straight—want to serve in a military where their leader might promise to have their back one day—then renege and lie out of political expediency the next.
The saddest thing for Mattis, for whom many had come to count on and admire from afar, is that he will now have this ugly, burdensome transphobic ban hung like an albatross around his legacy—even though he knows that the ban will most likely get killed in court and Trump will probably blame him and fire him anyway.