Coast Guard Commandant: ‘I will not turn my back’ on transgender troops

“You have made an investment in the Coast Guard, and I will not break faith.”

CREDIT: AP Photo/Jessica Hill
CREDIT: AP Photo/Jessica Hill

It’s been nearly a week since President Donald Trump tweeted his intentionsto ban transgender people from military service, but no further guidance has followed. Even if it does, Admiral Paul Zukunft, commandant of the Coast Guard, seemed to indicate that he won’t be discharging anyone.

Following Trump’s tweets, Zukunft says he had his office immediately contact the 13 members of the Coast Guard who have self-identified as transgender. (There are likely far more transgender servicemembers, but they could only come out without fear of being discharged for the past year.) This included Lt. Taylor Miller, who was profiled last week in the Washington Post.

“If you read that story, Taylor’s family has disowned her. Her family is the United States Coast Guard,” Zukunft told Military.com. “And I told Taylor, ‘I will not turn my back. We have made an investment in you, and you have made an investment in the Coast Guard, and I will not break faith.’”

After reaching out to his troops, Zukunft’s next step was to reach out to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly. Though two days later Kelly would be announced as Trump’s new White House chief of staff, he reached out to Defense Secretary James Mattis on Zukunft’s behalf.

“We stood up a tiger team of our JAG officers,” Zukunft said, referring to the branch’s legal wing. “That is the commitment to our people right now. Very small numbers, but all of them are doing meaningful Coast Guard work today.”

News of Zukunft’s defiance comes the same day a coalition of 56 retired generals and admirals warned of the consequences of the proposed ban. If implemented, they say it “would would cause significant disruptions, deprive the military of mission-critical talent, and compromise the integrity of transgender troops who would be forced to live a lie, as well as non-transgender peers who would be forced to choose between reporting their comrades or disobeying policy.” It would “degrade readiness,” they explained, even more than “the failed ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy.”

Among the statement’s signers was retired Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, who sparred with Trump during the campaign after endorsing Hillary Clinton. Admonishing Trump’s support for the use of torture, Allen said last July, “When we swear an oath to support and defend the Constitution, which is a document and a set of principles and it supports the rule of law, one of those is to ensure that we do not obey illegal orders.”