Hatch, Love, Sutherland Institute denounce Trump's ban on transgender troops

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Republicans in Washington and local LGBT advocacy groups spoke out against President Donald Trump after the commander in chief declared a ban on transgender troops serving in the U.S. military.

"After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military," Trump posted in a series of tweets Wednesday morning.

"Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you."

The tweets came for the president's personal Twitter account.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a firm Trump supporter, issued a statement on Twitter that disagrees with the president.

"I don’t think we should be discriminating against anyone. Transgender people are people, and deserve the best we can do for them. I look forward to getting much more information and clarity from our military leaders about the policy the President tweeted today," Hatch tweeted.

Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, also turned to Twitter to denounce the ban.

"All those who are fit for #militaryservice should be allowed to serve. To all those who have already chosen to serve, thank you," Love's tweet read.

State Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, also denounced the ban on Twitter, calling Trump a "desperate" and "dangerous man" who is "lashing out at people and groups to divert attention from his sheer incompetence."

LGBT advocacy groups also spoke out against the Trump's Twitter announcement, noting a time during the 2016 presidential race when Trump called himself a friend of the LGBT community.

"These people serve with honor; they’re active duty. They’re sacrificing to protect our freedoms," said Rusty Andrade, board chairman at Equality Utah. "They should be treated like anybody else and shouldn’t be discriminated against.

"The bottom line is what’s underneath their uniform is not nearly as important as the way that they’re acting and the way that they’re serving when they’re in uniform," Andrade said.

In another statement, Transgender Education Advocates of Utah noted that the effectiveness of the military doesn't depend on the gender of the soldiers.

"Our hearts are saddened by news this morning that transgender people are not allowed to serve in the U.S. military," the statement read. "This move will not prevent transgender people from serving, but it will cause many of those who are already in the military to hide who they are.

"This serves no purpose but to alienate and stigmatize people who are offering their lives in service to our country, and to enable bigotry and hatred."

* * *

Sue Robbins is a transgender woman and an Army veteran. The Utah woman served four years as a tank gunner and 16 years in satellite communications during a 20-year career, she said.

Robbins said she didn't identify as transgender while serving because she feared the change would drive a wedge between her and the other members of her team.

"It’s one of those things that you keep inside you," she said. "It was something I started working on, figuring out who I was, right after I retired and left the Army. Before that, it was just feelings that I bottled up and I really didn’t discover what it meant to me."

Trump's announcement brings disappointment and danger for transgender troops currently serving in the U.S. military, said Robbins, who heads the Utah Pride Center board of directors and serves as treasurer for Transgender Education Advocates of Utah board.

"(The tweet) says our presence is ‘divisive’ and ‘distracting,’ and it isn’t," she said. "Discrimination may be divisive and distracting, and that shows itself in many ways, not just in gender identity. We’re not any different in our ability to perform and to be able to fight.

"If they drive this policy to its hardest level, (transgender people) could be discharged from the Army just for being transgender, no matter what level of service they had up until this time," Robbins said.

Equality Utah board member Sarah Gene Hjalmarson also served in the U.S. military and identifies as genderqueer.

"We have always and will always serve with honor and integrity, as do those who serve honorably at our side," Hjalmarson said in a statement. "Selfless service is dependent on nothing more or less than how I carry myself in uniform."

According Equality Utah, about 20 percent people of Utahns know a transgender person, and 80 percent know a gay, lesbian or bisexual person.

"The burden is not the issue here," Andrade said. "It’s targeting minorities."

* * *

Hours after Trump's tweets, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who has been on vacation this week, was publicly silent, and the Pentagon referred all questions to the White House.

Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said the Pentagon was working with the White House to "address the new guidance" from Trump. That suggested there is not yet any new written policy or executive order.

Trump's sudden declaration appears to halt a decadeslong trend toward more inclusive policies on military service, including the repeal in 2010 of a ban on gays serving openly.

President Bill Clinton in 1993 began the push to allow gays to serve. In December 2015, President Barack Obama's Pentagon chief, Ash Carter, announced that all military positions would be open to women. Liberalizing policy on transgender troops was the next step.

The Pentagon has refused to release any data on the number of transgender people currently serving. A Rand Corp. study has estimated the number at between 1,320 and 6,630 out of 1.3 million active-duty troops.

Transgender service members have been able to serve openly since 2016, when Carter ended the ban. Since Oct. 1, transgender troops could receive medical care and start changing their gender identifications in the Pentagon's personnel system.

Carter also gave the services until July 1 to develop policies to allow people already identifying as transgender to join the military if they normal standards and have been stable in their identified genders for 18 months.

* * *

Andrade called into question the timing of Trump's announcement, saying it's "a big distraction from a bigger problems."

"We feel like it’s a distraction from the health care argument," the Equality Utah board chairman said. "We’re just trying to rally behind the community and make sure we can protect our members."

The Sutherland Institute's Boyd Matheson agrees.

"This is just a huge distraction," said Matheson, who serves as president of the conservative Salt Lake City-based think tank. "It's almost the shiny object the president wanted people chasing today rather than focusing on health care and some of these other issues."

During his election campaign, Trump occasionally presented himself as a potential ally of gays and lesbians, promising to be a "real friend" of their community.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump had made "a military decision." She said it was his judgment that allowing transgender service "erodes military readiness and unit cohesion."

Sanders said the "president's national security team was part of this consultation" and that Trump "informed" Mattis of his decision immediately after he made it on Tuesday.

Carter, who served as defense secretary the last two years of Obama's presidency, issued a statement criticizing Trump's move.

"I continue to maintain that what matters in choosing those who serve is that they are best qualified," Carter wrote. "To choose service members on other grounds than military qualifications is social policy and has no place in our military."

Contributing: Associated Press Email: astilson@deseretnews.com

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