Uncertainty on Trump's Transgender Order

Military academies have had transgender students, but impact of president's shift is unknown.

July 27, 2017
U.S. Naval Academy

On Wednesday morning, President Donald Trump announced via Twitter that his administration would roll back previous guidelines that allowed transgender individuals to openly serve in the military.

“[P]lease 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 announced in a tweet. “Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender [sic] in the military would entail.”

It is unclear what impact this policy could have on U.S. service academies and other military programs, several of which either have or formerly had transgender students enrolled.

I think here we should more quickly say something about higher ed focus: "It is unclear what impact this policy could have on the U.S. service academies and other military programs, several of which either have enrolled or formerly had enrolled transgender students." -sj --NR

Even the fate for transgender troops currently serving is unclear, though many read it as the impending end of service for those currently serving as openly transgender. When pressed during Wednesday’s White House press briefing, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the press secretary, was vague on what the president’s directive would entail, saying that the White House and the Department of Defense “will have to work together as implementation takes place and is done so lawfully.”

When asked about a timeline for a new guidance from the White House on transgender service members, Sanders did not have an estimate. 

The uncertainty about what the new order means extends to service academies and Reserve Officer Training Corps programs at non-military colleges, though it generally points toward a reversal for transgender hopefuls. Previously the Department of Defense was working toward a policy set to be in place by July 2018 to determine how it would accommodate transgender troops. The policy read, in part:

The gender identity of an otherwise qualified individual will not bar them from joining the military, from admission to our Service Academies, or from participating in ROTC or any other accession program. 

How much of that is reversed -- including admission to service academies and participation in ROTC programs -- by Trump’s new announcement is not clear. The White House did not respond to a request for comment on how the new policy would apply specifically to service academies and ROTC programs. end this graph here? there are some great reporters at BuzzFeed but also a lot of terrible ones (based on facts).... and I'm nervous about attributing news there -sj -- NR fine with that

In May, USA Today reported that there were two transgender cadets, one each at West Point and the Air Force Academy, who were set to graduate that month. They were cleared to graduate, but not serve in their respective branches, as the military had not yet developed the pipeline for accepting new transgender troops. (The Obama-era order allowing transgender individuals to serve openly applied to those already enlisted, and gave the military a set time to develop protocols for accepting new service members.) 

A West Point spokesman said that the institution is unaware of any transgender students currently enrolled, and that the process of graduating, but not being able to serve, was still in place given that the accession system hadn’t changed since May.

West Point deferred further comment to the White House on what any new policy might mean for admission and current cadets, as did the Department of Defense, the Air Force Academy and the Naval Academy.

“We will continue to work closely with the White House to address the new guidance provided by the Commander-in-Chief on transgender individuals serving the military,” Navy Captain Jeff A. Davis, director of defense press operations, said in a statement. “We will provide revised guidance to the Department in the near future.”

Alana Miller, a spokeswoman for the Coast Guard, which runs a service academy in Connecticut, said that the Guard is “working with the Department of Defense to see what that means for our policy.”

The new order also puts into question what military programs outside the service academies -- such as Reserve Officers' Training Corps programs -- will do about transgender students, and whether transgender students will still attend, or can commission, after graduation from service academies. The Citadel, a four-year public military college in South Carolina, says cadets are expected to be “actively sensitive” to “issues related to different cultures, gender, race, lifestyle choices, sexual orientation and religious beliefs” in its Blue Book of regulations for its corps of cadets.

In 2016, Kenton Pendrey graduated from the Citadel after originally enrolling as Keisha Pendrey. During his transition to become a man, he requested that professors and peers refer to him as “he,” which many at the institution embraced as it worked to update its policies on transgender cadets in an attempt to get ahead of the changing national discussion on the topic.

“The core values [of The Citadel] are honor, duty, respect,” said spokeswoman Kimberly Keelor. Given that the White House has not yet issued any guidance or policy on transgender service members, Keelor said it was too premature to comment on if or how the Citadel’s policies might change.

At Norwich University, a private military institution in Vermont, its policies toward transgender students won’t be changing in light of Trump’s announcement. However, the university acknowledged that any change to the government’s policies would affect students after graduation.

“President Trump’s announcement affects those wishing to enter into the military, which describes about 103 of our 2017 graduates who commissioned into the military following commencement in May,” Kathleen Murphy-Moriarty, vice president of marketing and communications, said in an email. “This announcement does not impact Norwich policy, but it may impact any student wishing to serve in the military.”

“All students and employees should feel welcome and comfortable at Norwich University,” she said. “We take seriously our responsibility to provide a safe and nondiscriminatory environment for all students and employees, including our transgender students and employees."

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