President Trump’s sudden, jarring announcement Wednesday that transgender people will be barred from serving in the military “in any capacity” has created chaos for the estimated 15,000 active servicemembers who identify as transgender.
Navy Lieutenant Commander Blake Dremann is one of them. “I’m in a bit of shock and surprise,” he told ThinkProgress over the phone. “Am I going to have a job? Will I be able to continue on this path?”
The abrupt policy change is particularly nefarious given that last year, the military gave transgender personnel who were already serving the green light to be open about their identity without fear of being discharged. After that, many who were previously serving in silence came out and some even began medical treatment. But now, because they’ve been open about being transgender, they will be easily identified to be kicked out.
Dremann said that he spoke to several of his trans colleagues Wednesday and they’re “scared” just like he is. “They’re worried their careers are now over,” he said. Moreover, “they’re concerned with how this will affect their ability to continue to get the treatment they’ve already been receiving from the military, as with any servicemember with a medical issue.”
For example, the Twitter user @spookperson described his friend Eli, a medaled airman who began transitioning while serving and who has been taking testosterone for almost a year. Eli stands to lose his job and the medical coverage that provides his hormone replacement therapy.
I want to tell you about my friend Eli pic.twitter.com/Knyx4h3942
— Goth Ms. Frizzle (@spookperson) July 26, 2017
Based on details that have come out Wednesday afternoon, Trump appeared to have made the decision unilaterally, reportedly telling Secretary of Defense James Mattis — who is on vacation — only immediately after it was made. It also seems Trump may have been trying to appease conservative House Republicans in exchange for funding for his border wall.
According to Dremann, there hasn’t been any communication from inside the armed services about how this new policy will be implemented. “All I know is it’s just a tweet,” Dremann said.
Retired Army Colonel Sheri Swokoski, who spent 34 years in the military and continued to work as a senior analyst for the Pentagon after transitioning, told ThinkProgress on Wednesday that she’s “surprised the leader of our military would think trans servicemembers are not worthy of or capable of serving their country.”
“It seems to me we’ve been doing that since the 1700s,” she said.
Dremann, who was the first ever openly trans officer to receive a military promotion, serves on the board of directors for SPART*A, an organization working to support transgender people in the military. He urged his fellow trans servicemembers to keep calm and “continue to do what you’ve been doing in serving with honor and dignity — show everyone we can rise above the adversity of this.” He promised that they’d fight this “tooth and nail.”
— TransMilitary (@TransMilitary) July 26, 2017
Swokoski agrees. She thinks the Trump administration has an uphill fight ahead of it to implement this ban. “The military has taught us to fight. This administration shouldn’t be surprised when we do.”
Dremann emphasized that after a year of allowing trans people to serve openly, including in significant positions, there has been no impact whatsoever to military readiness or unit cohesion — despite the White House’s unsupported claims to the contrary.
“We will continue to do so until the military tells us to hang up our boots,” he said.