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Army chief of staff undermines DOD report against transgender service

“U.S. military has the prerogative to set necessary standards for troops.”

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Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley undermined the DOD report against transgender service. (Photo public domain)

The top uniformed official in the U.S. Army on Thursday undermined recommendations from Defense Secretary James Mattis against transgender military service — which led to President Trump’s ban on transgender people in the armed forces — by asserting their presence has had no negative impact on unit cohesion.

But Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley also undercut efforts the other way in support of transgender military service by saying it’s “not a civil rights issue” and by asserting the U.S. military has the prerogative to set necessary standards for troops.

Milley, along with Army Secretary Mark Esper, made the remarks during congressional testimony on the the posture of the Army under questioning from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who has introduced legislation against Trump’s transgender military ban.

Gillibrand, who cited concerns about unit cohesion in the aftermath of the anti-trans recommendations, asked the Army officials if transgender service — first allowed in the Obama years under former Defense Secretary Ashton Carter before Trump tried to ban it — had resulted in any problems. Both officials replied it had not.

Esper, who had previously said the issue of transgender service “hasn’t come up” in talks with soldiers, reported no new problems with unit cohesion.

“Nothing has percolated up to my level,” Esper said. “When I made that comment, I was questioned about if I met with soldiers and talk about these issues, what do they raise? And as I said then…young kids tend to raise the issue in front of them at the day. It could be that they’re performing all-night duty or didn’t get their paycheck, and this was just not an issue that came up at that moment in time.”

Milley echoed the sentiment, saying in response to Gillibrand’s question about whether transgender troops have caused a problem with unit cohesion, “No. Not at all.”

“We have a finite number,” Milley said. “We know who they are, and it is monitored very closely because we’re concerned about that and want to make sure that they are in fact treated with dignity and respect and no have precisely zero reports of issues of cohesion, discipline, moral and all sorts of things.”

The evaluation that transgender service hasn’t negatively affected unit cohesion stands in contrast to the report produced by Mattis to justify Trump’s transgender ban, which was made public last month by the White House.

“[U]ndermining the clear sex-differentiated lines with respect to physical fitness; berthing, bathroom and shower facilities; and uniform and grooming standards, which have all served the branches well to date, risks unnecessarily adding to the challenges faced by leaders at all levels, potentially fraying unit cohesion, and threatening good order and discipline,” the report says.

Aaron Belkin, director of the San Fransico-based Palm Center, said in a statement Milley’s testimony speaks volumes about transgender service and undermines Mattis’ conclusions.

“It is telling for the Army chief of staff to acknowledge there have been ‘zero’ problems with cohesion, discipline or morale just weeks after a DOD report, ostensibly based on months of research, insisted that transgender troops pose a risk to cohesion, discipline and morale,” Belkin said.

Although courts have enjoined the Trump administration from enjoining its ban on transgender military service, Gillibrand said the transgender military ban that Trump is seeking and the Mattis recommendations could still be harmful.

“Transgender service members have now seen the department’s recommendation and are on notice that if the policy is implemented, they will get kicked out for seeking care or treatment for their gender dysphoria,” Gillibrand said. “I’m worried that this uncertainty will have a negative impact on these individuals, but also on their units and that fear of these recommendations will stop these soldiers from seeking care.”

Asked by Gillibrand what the Army is doing to ensure readiness “in the light of the pale that been case on the future of transgender soldiers,” Esper insisted they’re being treated fairly.

“We continue to treat every soldier, transgender or not, with dignity and respect, ensure that they’re well-trained and well-equipped for whatever future fights,” Esper said. “With regard to accessions, our accession folks understand that we are operating under the Carter policy, if you will. We’ve had some persons already join, transgender persons join, and we will continue to assess them and train them and treat them well in accordance with that policy.”

But Gillibrand expressed skepticism, saying the recommendations against transgender service “is different from treating everybody with dignity and respect.”

In the wake of a letter from Democrats seeking information on the process that led Mattis to come to his recommendations against transgender service, Gillibrand asked the officials about the degree to which they had input, citing objections to the recommendations from the American Medical Association about its conclusions.

When Gillibrand asked who represented the Army on the panel of experts Mattis convened, Milley said it was Vice Chief of the Army Gen. James McConville. When Gillibrand asked if any medical experts were included on the panel, Milley said he was unsure, but knew McConville “consulted with lots of internal folks, medical professionals, absolutely yes.” Gillibrand asked Milley to submit to the Senate Armed Services Committee the names of the experts who were consulted, and Milley agreed.

Milley also offered additional information about the nature of the panel of experts Mattis convened to reach his conclusions against transgender service. The Army chief of staff offered to provide Gillibrand the exact names at a later time.

“Each of the service vices, I believe, was on it,” Milley said. “There were several DOD folks. I’m pretty sure the panel was led by the DOD P&R, if I remember right, the under secretary for personnel and readiness.”

But the last word in the exchange wasn’t favorable to transgender service. Asked by Gillibrand if the two had spoken to transgender soldiers, they said they’ve had those exchanges, but not after the recommendations were issued. That’s when Milley pushed back by asserting the military’s right to institute standards.

“My view is that we have an Army that is standards-based,” Milley said. “It has always been standards-based. It will remains standards-based for medical, physical, psychological, conduct, etc. And those soldiers or those applicants, people who want to assess into the Army that meet those standards, and they’re rigorous standards, if you meet those standards, then you’re on the team. If you don’t meet the standards for whatever reason, then you’re not on the team. It’s that simple.”

Those standards, Milley said, may mean certain individuals are unable to serve in the armed forces regardless of what civil rights advocates think.

“This is not an issue, in my view, this is not a civil rights issue,” Milley said. “This is an issue of standards and maintaining deployability and the combat effectiveness and lethality of the United States Army, and I think I speak for the other service chiefs as well.”

Belkin told the Blade he agrees with Milley that issue isn’t about civil rights, but transgender service is in the best interest of military readiness.

“And the research as well as lessons from two years of inclusive policy and 18 foreign militaries that allow transgender service is that treating everybody according to the same standards is what’s best for readiness,” Belkin said. “The problem with the Trump ban is that it is based on scientific distortions, cherry-picked data and double standards that apply only to transgender troops, and no one else.”

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California Politics

Kick Big Tobacco OUT of California Political Campaigns launches

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Los Angeles Blade graphic

LOS ANGELES — The OUT Against Big Tobacco coalition supported by Equality California Institute launched a pledge last week urging California legislators and candidates to voluntarily refuse campaign contributions from the tobacco industry.

A total of sixteen legislators and candidates have taken the pledge thus far, with more expected to sign on as the 2022 campaign season gets underway.

The pledge was launched in conjunction with the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout, a national day in recognition of tobacco users who are looking to quit tobacco for good. LGBTQ+ people are more than TWICE as likely to smoke as our non-LGBTQ+ peers, and nearly 30,000 LGBTQ+ people across the country die every year of tobacco-related causes.

Initial signers of OUT Against Big Tobacco’s pledge not to take tobacco industry campaign contributions include:

  • Senator Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach)
  • Senator Dave Min (D-Irvine)
  • Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco)
  • Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes (D-Corona) 
  • Assemblymember Tasha Boerner Horvath (D-Encinitas)
  • Assemblymember Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach)
  • Annie Cho, candidate for Assembly District 38
  • Supervisor Matt Haney, candidate for Assembly District 17
  • Daniel Hertzberg, candidate for Senate District 18
  • Mayor Christy Holstege, candidate for Assembly District 42
  • Bilal Mahmood, candidate for Assembly District 17
  • Mayor Lily Mei, candidate for Senate District 10
  • Caroline Menjivar, candidate for Senate District 18 
  • Andrea Rosenthal, candidate for Assembly District 36
  • Rick Chavez Zbur, candidate for Assembly District 50

“For decades, Big Tobacco has used their profits to place themselves as friends of our community. This year we are kicking them OUT; out of our Pride, out of our organizations, and out of our politics,” said Equality California Program Manager, Dr. Shannon Kozlovich. “We are calling all 2022 California State legislative candidates to stand with us and pledge to run tobacco free campaigns.

“The tobacco industry is killing our children, killing people of color, killing people that have underlying health conditions. We have to take a stand by not accepting tobacco contributions!” said Senator Lena Gonzalez.

In California’s 2020 Senate and Assembly election cycle, tobacco companies spent $6 million on campaign contributions, while spending millions more lobbying against legislation to prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco products — products disproportionately targeted towards LGBTQ+ people, people of color and our young people. 

“The tobacco industry serves no purpose other than to make people sick. Tobacco money is not essential for people to win” states Senator Scott Wiener. 

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California Politics

California voters in a new poll say society will completely break down

QUESTION: Agree or disagree: I am worried that a complete breakdown in American society could happen in my lifetime

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Graphic courtesy of Probolsky Research

NEWPORT BEACH – A new poll released last Thursday by Probolsky Research found that a near majority of California voters think that a complete breakdown in American society could happen in the next couple of decades or so where no one shows up to work, armed mobs roam the streets, and the government cannot continue to operate.

QUESTION: Agree or disagree: I am worried that a complete breakdown in American society could happen in my lifetime where no one shows up to work, armed mobs roam the streets, and the government cannot continue to operate.

The results are even more dramatic among Republicans, 69% of whom say they are worried, and those fifty and older who say American society is on the brink. Black voters too.

Full majorities in Los Angeles County, the Central Valley and Northern California also believe Californians are doomed, as do a majority of those who prefer to speak Spanish.

The multi-mode poll was conducted by telephone and online among 900 California voters from November 12 – 18, 2021. A survey of this size yields a margin of error of +/-3.3% and a 95% confidence level. This survey question was not sponsored by a third party, the results are being released for public interest.

Probolsky Research which conducted the poll is a non-partisan Latina- and woman-owned research firm with corporate, election, government, and non-profit clients.

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California Politics

Assembly Speaker strips Evan Low of committee chair- no reason stated

Speaker Anthony Rendon under fire from LGBTQ, diversity groups for sidelining one of California’s top gay legislators

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Assemblymember Evan Low (Screenshot via KGO-TV 7 ABC News Bay Area)

SACRAMENTO – The Speaker of the California Assembly Anthony Rendon (D-Los Angeles)  abruptly stripped Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Campbell) of both of his positions as chairman and member of the Assembly’s Business and Professions Committee Wednesday without a stated reason.

In a letter to Sue Parker, the Chief Clerk of the Assembly, Rendon named Assemblymember Marc Berman (D-Palo Alto) as Low’s replacement without explanation. Low, who has served as chair of the committee for the past five legislative sessions, offered no direct comment instead stating in a release via his office; “It has been an honor to serve as chair of the Assembly’s Business and Professions Committee, where my colleagues and I crafted legislation to help small businesses, combat the opioid crisis, implement a system to regulate legal cannabis, and work with Governor Newsom to protect patients and health professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Low serves as Chair of the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus and Vice Chair of the California API Legislative Caucus, his removal brought immediate condemnation from groups aligned with those marginalised communities.

We are deeply disappointed to see Assemblymember Low removed as Chair of the Assembly Business and Professions Committee without any explanation. At a time when the API community faces a surge in hate, violence and discrimination, and state legislatures across the country relentlessly attack the LGBTQ+ community, Assemblymember Low has provided critical representation for our communities in Sacramento,” Equality California said in a statement. “He has chaired the B&P Committee for the last five years with policy-driven and solution-oriented leadership. Removing Assemblymember Low as chair is an unfortunate example of people of color — especially API people — being sidelined from leadership roles despite demonstrated success and a commitment to strengthening and diversifying the Legislature.”

The Washington D.C. based non-profit OCA-Asian Pacific American Advocates, a 48 year-old group that has chapters in all 50 states, dedicated to advancing the social, political, and economic well-being of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, tweeted their displeasure:

Assembly sources told the Blade over the past two days that Rendon’s actions appear to be politically driven retaliation stemming from several factions who had approached Low to campaign for the Speaker’s gavel this past summer, unhappy with Rendon’s handling of the legislative calendar as well as his handling of certain matters on the Democratic agenda.

One source pointed out that “stripping him [Low] of his chair was ridiculous and a petty move that smacked of revenge on the Speaker’s part given that he [Low] has held a personal fundraiser for Rendon and raised $120 thousand for the Speaker.”

A legislative staffer speaking to the Blade on background Friday said that the optics of the Speaker’s action was terrible. “You remove the gay lawmaker who heads the LGBT caucus and vice-chairs the Asian-PI caucus without reason? Look its clearly revenge- but Evan told those people he wasn’t going to do an end run on the Speaker and he didn’t.”

“Speaker Rendon has the right to replace any committee chair, but he also has the responsibility to explain why. To remove Evan Low – the only out LGBTQ AAPI committee chair in the Assembly – from his position without explanation is problematic, especially with no other LGBTQ people serving as chairs. At a time when the LGBTQ community and the AAPI community face increasing harm, we need more bold leadership like Evan Low’s, not less.”

Annise Parker, LGBTQ Victory Institute President & CEO

Movement is afoot inside Assembly circles as disbelief is turning to anger. Another source speaking to the Blade on background said that the Speaker’s action looks like it will backfire. “I’ve heard that some are saying they will go on the record in the next week- and some are really pissed off. He’s [Rendon] annoyed the Black caucus, now the Asian caucus- the people thinking about to go on the record, that momentum is building.”

The Speaker is not commenting nor making public statements as of Friday. One source told the Blade that a prominent non-profit leader had texted Rendon expressing grave concerns over what appeared to be a capricious move in removing Low and received no answer other than “Message received.”

One of oldest LGBTQ non-profit political groups, The Bay Area Municipal Elections Committee (BAYMEC) a four-county LGBTQ political action committee (PAC) which has been advocating for the civil rights of LGBTQ people since 1984 in the central coast counties of San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and Monterey, took to Twitter expressing its outrage.

The Bay Area Reporter noted that the Sacramento Bee first reported about Low being stripped of his chairmanship. His being removed means he no longer chairs any committees, as per Assembly rules its members are only given one chairmanship per legislative session. Low remains a member of the communications and conveyance; elections; governmental organization; and higher education committees.

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