NEW YORK — Most LGBT-rights activists never believed Donald Trump’s campaign promises to be their friend. But with his move Wednesday to ban transgender people from military service, on top of other actions and appointments, they now see him as openly hostile.
Leaders of major advocacy groups depicted Trump’s Twitter pronouncement as an appeal to the portion of his conservative base that opposes the recent civil-rights gains by the LGBT community.
“His administration will stop at nothing to implement its anti-LGBTQ ideology within our government — even if it means denying some of our bravest Americans the right to serve and protect our nation,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, president of the LGBT-rights group GLAAD.
Transgender service members have been able to serve openly since last year, after a move by then-Defence Secretary Ash Carter. Trump’s vow to end that policy was the latest, and perhaps the most stinging, of a string of actions since his election that have dismayed supporters of LGBT rights.
—The administration rescinded federal guidance advising school districts to let transgender students use the bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice. It said state and local officials should decide the issue.
—Several of Trump’s high-level appointees have solid records as opponents of LGBT-rights advances, including Vice-President Mike Pence, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.
—At Trump’s direction, Sessions is developing new guidance on religious liberty for federal agencies that is expected to make it easier for people with religious objections to refuse to recognize LGBT rights.
—Six members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS resigned, asserting that Trump “simply does not care” about combating HIV and AIDS as it continues to beset the LGBT community.
The Human Rights Campaign, a national LGBT-rights group, depicted Trump’s early-morning tweets Wednesday as a “heinous and disgusting” attack on transgender service members.
“It is also the latest effort by Trump and Mike Pence to undo our progress and drag LGBTQ people back into the closet by using our lives as political pawns,” said the group’s president, Chad Griffin.
Trump’s pronouncement was hailed by some conservatives who have long complained that the military was undermining its effectiveness by allowing gays, lesbians and transgender people to serve openly. Opponents also have contended that the military should not bear the cost of any medical procedures related to gender transition.
“Our troops shouldn’t be forced to endure hours of transgender ‘sensitivity’ classes and politically correct distractions like this one,” said Tony Perkins, a former Marine who heads the conservative Family Research Council.
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, denounced Trump’s declaration as “simple bigotry.”
“This attack has nothing to do with military readiness, reason or science,” she said. “It is indefensible.”
Among those dismayed by Trump’s tweets was Lt. Cmdr. Blake Dremann, a transgender man who’s served in the Navy for 11 years and received his latest promotion after the policy change last year.
“Trans service members are continuing to do our jobs,” Dremann said. “People know who we are now and it becomes personal, especially when you’ve got families that are going to be affected by this.”
“There are isolated cases where trans service members are treated differently because their commanders don’t agree (with them serving),” he said. “We have worked with our commanders to get those incidents corrected.”
Another active-duty transgender soldier, Army Capt. Jennifer Peace, said she was concerned how a possible ban would affect her and her family, as well as other transgender service members.
“My command has told me in the past the only thing that we should discriminate on is job performance, and I hope that military leadership will handle this issue the same way,” Peace said in an email.
Capt. Jacob Eleazer, a transgender man who serves in the Kentucky Army National Guard, said he was stunned by Trump’s action.
“Fired by tweet. It was honestly pretty shocking,” said Eleazer, who took the day off from his job as a therapist in Lexington, Kentucky, to assess the situation. It’s not clear yet whether Eleazer’s career will be affected.
Eleazer, 31, has been in the military since 2006. In 2014, he told his superior officer he was transgender, and got full support.
Attorney Sasha Buchert, a transgender woman who works for the LGBT-rights group Lambda Legal, recalled feelings of fear and isolation while serving in the Marines in the 1980s, decades before her gender transition.
“It’s not a question of whether transgender people will serve,” she said. “It’s a question of whether they’ll be serving openly or will be hiding like they did in the old days.”
Another transgender veteran, retired Army Col. Sheri Swokowski, said it’s important for transgender people and their allies to push back against Trump’s decree.
Swokowski, 67, of Windsor, Wisconsin, transitioned to female after retiring from the military in 2004.
“The military has taught us to fight and this administration shouldn’t be surprised when we do,” she said. “We need to impress upon the administration that we’re not living in the dark ages.”