Coast Guard ‘will not break faith’ with transgender members: Commandant

By Loree Lewis   
Adm. Paul F. Zukunft, commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, speaks at Coast Guard Station Castle Hill, in Newport, Rhode Island, March 1, 2017. (Photo: Auxiliarist Reid Oslin/ U.S. Coast Guard)

WASHINGTON – The head of the Coast Guard said Tuesday that he “will not break faith” with transgender personnel, marking the strongest rebuttal yet of President Donald Trump’s announcement that transgender people will no longer be able to serve in the military.

“The first thing we did is we reached out to all 13 members of the Coast Guard who have come out” as transgender after President Barack Obama rolled back restrictions last June on transgender people serving openly, Adm. Paul Zukunft said at an event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Among those Zukunft said he spoke with was Lt. Taylor Miller, the Coast Guard’s first openly transitioning officer who was featured in Washington Post article last week.

“I told Taylor I will not turn my back,” Zukunft said. “We have made an investment in you and you have made an investment in the Coast Guard, and I will not break faith.”

Zukunft said that he also reached out to the secretaries of Homeland Security and the Defense Department  following the announcement to consider the implications. The Coast Guard is part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), but at war time the President and Congress can transfer it to the leadership of the Defense Department.

When the Obama administration changed policy last year, Zukunft wrote a note of support with then DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson. “All qualified people who wish to serve in our Nation’s military should have the opportunity to do so,” they said in the joint statement.

Last week Trump announced via a series of Tweets that transgender people would no longer be able to serve in the military “in any capacity,” citing that the military cannot be burdened with the “tremendous medical costs and disruption” that transgender service members would cause.

Defense Department officials later said that they did not consider the tweets as a formal directive, but instead an announcement of intent.

Defense Department spokesperson Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said Monday that the department is still awaiting formal notification from the White House, but that defense officials had been in contact with the White House about drafting the order. He declined to offer specifics.

He said the Defense Department has “no reason not to believe” that the White House will issue that formal guidance.

The White House has said that the Defense Department will take the lead in deciding if openly serving transgender people will be kicked out of the force, and how else to implement the policy.

White House press secretary Sara Huckabee Sanders said last week that “the White House will work with the Department of Defense and all of the relevant parties to make sure that we fully implement this policy moving forward and do so in a lawful manner.”

Both Republicans and Democrats, including lawmakers opposed to use of tax dollars to pay for gender dysphoria treatment, have criticized the proposal to boot all transgender people from the military.

The Defense Department does not have its own estimate of the number of transgender people serving across the military branches, but estimates by the Rand Corp. and cited by officials in the past put the number at 1,320 and 6,630 in active duty and 1,510 in the reserves.

The same Rand Corp. study found that allowing transgender persons to serve openly would have “have minimal impact on readiness and health care costs,” with a $2.4 million to $8.4 million a year spending increase (0.04 to 0.13 percent).

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