Donald Trump said today that he’s “doing the military a great favor” with his ban on service by transgender people — although the ban now appears to be on hold due to tensions between the U.S. and North Korea.
Trump made the remarks during a press conference, one of very few he’s held since becoming president, at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., where he’s spending what is ostensibly a working vacation.
When a reporter brought up the trans ban, which Trump announced via Twitter July 26, the president responded, “It’s been a very confusing issue for the military, and I think I’m doing the military a great favor.”
LGBT rights advocates called that statement an affront to transgender service members.
"President Trump's shameful comments are an absolute insult to our nation's armed forces and a slap in the face to the thousands of transgender service members who are willing to risk their lives every day for this country," said Ashley Broadway-Mack, president of the American Military Partner Association, in a press release. "Their selfless service and sacrifice for this nation is no 'complicated issue.' Military leadership and the far majority of Americans support all of our nation's heroes, and President Trump should start doing the same."
And Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, released a statement saying, “Donald Trump’s delusional comments regarding his reckless ban on transgender troops are demonstrably false and lack any basis in reality. Donald Trump’s attack on transgender troops weakens our military and is a betrayal of those who wear the uniform. Fifty-six retired admirals and generals, Republican and Democrat elected officials, and a majority of the American public have all condemned Trump’s misguided and despicable policy that will do nothing but undermine military readiness and harm brave transgender service members and their families.”
Evidence that the ban will undermine readiness comes from the military itself. Defense Department sources told the Washington Blade the armed forces will put implementation of the ban and all other personnel matters, except for disciplinary issues, on hold while there is an imminent threat of war with North Korea. Trump this week exchanged harsh words with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and Kim has threatened to launch missiles, which may be capable of carrying nuclear weapons, against the U.S. territory of Guam.
The White House had prepared guidance for the department on implementing the ban, possibly by encouraging early retirement by trans service members, and planned to send it to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis this week. However, as of Wednesday the department hadn’t received the document, the Blade reports.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights and GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders this week filed a federal lawsuit challenging the ban. Other organizations, including Lambda Legal, OutServe-SLDN, and the American Civil Liberties Union, intend to sue as well.
In today’s news conference, Trump made several other questionable statements on LGBT issues and more — downplaying his relationship with former campaign manager Paul Manafort, whose home was searched by FBI agents this week, and thanking Russia for expelling U.S. diplomats, for instance. On LGBT issues, he asserted that he has “great respect” for LGBT people and “got a lot of votes” from them.
Trump’s way of showing respect, however, has been to scale back LGBT-inclusive antidiscrimination protections. In addition to seeking reinstatement of the trans military ban, he or members of his administration have made it harder to enforce President Obama’s executive order banning anti-LGBT discrimination by companies doing business with the federal government, rescinded guidelines on protecting transgender students, argued that federal law against sex discrimination doesn’t cover sexual orientation discrimination, and nominated a Supreme Court justice and several lower-court federal judges who are unsympathetic to LGBT rights. And as for “a lot of votes,” a nationwide exit poll showed Trump received only 14 percent of the LGBT vote, with Hillary Clinton winning 78 percent.
Video of the whole news conference is below, via CNN.