The civilian head of the U.S. Army said Thursday soldiers are unconcerned about serving alongside transgender people despite President Trump stoking fear about cohesion in his attempt to ban them from the armed forces, according to ABC News.
Army Secretary Mark Esper said transgender military service “really hasn’t come up” as he’s traveled to U.S. bases at home and abroad when reporters asked if soldiers expressed concerns about transgender service.
Esper, who’s already visited soldiers domestically and abroad in South Korea, Afghanistan and Europe, reportedly said troops are more likely to express concerns about food quality and pay.
The Pentagon is due on Wednesday to submit to President Trump recommendations on transgender service in accordance with his directive in August banning transgender people from the armed forces.
It’s unknown what the recommendations will be, or whether Trump will alter his directive after that time. A federal court has issued a document asserting the Justice Department expects to defend a new transgender military policy in court after that time.
Esper, who assumed office as Army secretary in November, said he met with “six or seven” active-duty trans soldiers in his first 30 days on the job and found their views “helpful” on the issue.
Additionally, Esper said he talked with mixed-gender infantry and cavalry units on transgender service. Those soldiers, Esper said, told him the issue boiled down to all troops meeting the same standard.
“Everybody wants to be treated with a clear set of standards,” Esper said, adding, “At the end of the day, the Army is a standards-based organization.”
Trump’s policy banning transgender people from the armed forces is supposed to take effect on March 23. However, multiple courts have issued orders enjoining the military from enforcing Trump’s directive as a result of litigation filed by LGBT legal groups.
An estimated 15,500 transgender people are serving in the military, according to the Williams Institute. A 2016 RAND Corp. report estimated a smaller number — between 1,320 and 6,630 — are currently on active duty.
One of Trump’s earlier choices for the role of Army secretary, Mark Green, expressed a different view of transgender people. Green said being transgender is a “disease” and as a state legislator in Tennessee spearheaded anti-trans bathroom legislation. Amid outcry from LGBT groups, Green withdrew his nomination, but he’s now running for Congress.
Esper’s predecessor in his role, Eric Fanning, served as Army secretary during the Obama administration and was the first senior defense official to come out in favor of transgender military service. Fanning has supported litigation challenging Trump’s ban and disputed the notions the U.S. military isn’t prepared for transgender service.
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