When Donald Trump announced you as his nominee to lead the Department of Defense, many in our community of veterans believed you to be an outstanding selection. Your care for troops and dedication to the mission are well known, and many believed you would be a steady hand and reasonable voice for an uncertain time and an inexperienced Commander-in-Chief.
As we learned in service and as you no doubt taught your subordinates, leaders are defined by their actions when facing adversity, not by what they do when leadership is unchallenging. This week, the President has presented you with such an opportunity by declaring, on the anniversary of Harry Truman’s order to desegregate the armed forces, that our transgender comrades are no longer welcome to serve their country in uniform. As you and we are well aware, discrimination against any person regarding anything other than their combat effectiveness is incompatible with military service.
As you know, the history of transgender people serving in the American force is complicated. While transgender Americans serve openly today and have served discreetly in our force since 1776, it was not until last year that the Department of Defense allowed our transgender brothers and sisters to serve openly. Just this month, the Pentagon announced a delay in allowing openly trans recruits to enlist. In your approval of that delay you noted that there is one standard you use to evaluate policy decisions: “the readiness and lethality of our armed forces.”
As American military veterans, we write to you today to emphatically state that Donald Trump’s “trans ban” unquestionably fails your standard. This policy will harm readiness and unit cohesion by removing troops from service who are integral, critical, and necessary members of their teams. It will prevent the Department of Defense from recruiting patriotic and qualified Americans with vital skills simply because of an identity that has no impact on their combat effectiveness. And perhaps most importantly, this reckless and bigoted trans ban forces servicemembers to choose between living a lie to serve the country that they and we love, or maintaining the personal integrity that we all know to be a core value of military service.
We believe you to be an honorable leader with the best interests of our force at heart. That honor cannot abide silence regarding a policy that is shortsighted, discriminates against brave servicemembers already in uniform and Americans who aspire to serve, and harms the readiness and lethality of our force. As American veterans, some of whom have served under your command, we implore you to publicly reject the President’s harmful statements and advise him to reverse this discriminatory decision. We know this is difficult for a leader in your position. But as you know well, great leaders cannot be timid in the face of adversity.