Defence chiefs up in arms over Trump’s transgender ban

Pentagon says it will continue to employ transgender staff until new rules are issued

Hundreds of demonstrators have gathered in New York, Washington DC and San Francisco to protest at US president Donald Trump's ban on transgender service members in the military. Video: Reuters


US president Donald Trump faced increasing pressure on Thursday over his ban on transgender individuals serving in the military, as senior Republicans and defence officials criticised the decision and questioned the abrupt timing of the announcement.

Amid confusion about the impact Mr Trump’s announcement on Twitter would have on current staff, the Pentagon said that its policy of employing transgender people would continue to stand until the White House issues new guidelines.

In a letter to all military service chiefs, Gen Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said their policy would not change until the Department of Defense directed otherwise.

“In the meantime, we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect,” he said. “Given the current fight and the challenges we face, we will all remain focused on accomplishing our assigned missions.”

An estimated 4,000 transgender people serve in the military, though some advocacy groups believe the number could be much higher.

Last year, then president Barack Obama lifted a ban prohibiting transgender people from serving, though the Pentagon was given a year to implement the change. Defence secretary James Mattis extended this deadline by six months last month.

No mention

At an event to honour the two police officers who were injured during an attack on Republican congressmen in a baseball park in Alexandria, Virginia in May, Mr Trump made no mention of his announcement on the change in personnel rules.

Special agents Crystal Grinder and David Bailey, who both sustained gunshot wounds while protecting unarmed members of Congress, were awarded a medal of valour by the US president at the ceremony. Steve Scalise, one of the congressman injured in the attack, was released from hospital on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, tensions among some of Mr Trump’s top staff members were exposed after newly appointed communications director Anthony Scaramucci appeared to accuse the president’s chief-of-staff Reince Priebus of leaking to the media. Mr Scaramucci suggested in a tweet sent on Wednesday night – which was later deleted – that Mr Priebus may have leaked a document outlining his financial disclosures.

Mr Scaramucci called in to a CNN morning show on Thursday, where he spoke live on air for 30 minutes. “We have had odds. We have had differences,” Mr Scaramucci said of Mr Priebus. “When I said we were brothers from the podium, that’s because we’re rough on each other. Some brothers are like Cain and Abel. Other brothers can fight with each other and get along. I don’t know if this is reparable or not. That will be up to the president.”

Press briefing

Asked during Thursday’s White House press briefing whether the president still had confidence in his chief-of-staff, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders replied: “We all serve at the pleasure of the president.”

“This is a White House that has a lot of different perspectives because the president hires the very best people . . . unlike previous administrations, this isn’t groupthink.”

Separately on Thursday, the head of the Boy Scouts of America apologised for Mr Trump’s speech in West Virginia on Tuesday which was widely criticised for its inflammatory tone and political message.

In a message published on the organisation’s website, Michael Surbaugh apologised for the “political rhetoric that was inserted” into its national gathering this week.

“I want to extend my sincere apologies to those in our Scouting family who were offended by the political rhetoric that was inserted into the jamboree,” he wrote in an open letter. “That was never our intent.” He said that every US president is invited to speak to the organisation but that the Scouts remained “steadfastly” non-partisan.