San Jose Mercury News: Bay Area outraged over Trump ban on transgender people in military

July 26, 2017

From local gender-rights advocates to leaders of some of Silicon Valley’s largest tech firms, President Donald Trump’s announcement Wednesday on Twitter that the military will ban transgender people from serving “in any capacity” incited a storm of outrage throughout the region.

Trump’s tweets especially stunned the Bay Area with its progressive politics and mounting resistance to the Trump administration’s policies. And, the impact of his words sparked emergency protests in the streets of San Francisco, home to one of the largest and most high-profile transgender communities in the country.

“The President is creating a worse version of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,”’ said Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, a San Francisco-based group that has done research on sexual minorities in the military.

“As we know from the sad history of that discredited policy, discrimination harms military readiness. This is a shocking and ignorant attack on our military and on transgender troops who have been serving honorably and effectively for the past year.”

Trump tweeted that after consulting with “Generals and military experts,” the government “will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.”

“Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail,” he added.

Belkin, however, pointed out comments earlier this week by former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen, who said the service of transgender individuals should be respected. Belkin added that the Rand Corporation has estimated that the cost of medical care for transgender troops is approximately one one-hundredth of one percent of the military’s annual health care budget, or at most, $8.4 million per year and that “to claim otherwise is to lie about the data.”

Not surprisingly, the President’s message ripped though the tech world, sending executives from Apple, Facebook, Google and Twitter to social media to denounce the ban, which some labeled as discrimination.

“We are indebted to all who serve. Discrimination against anyone holds everyone back,” tweeted Apple CEO Tim Cook.

“Everyone should be able to serve their country — no matter who they are,” wrote Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a Facebook post.

Other tech executives, including Google CEO Sundar Pichai and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, tweeted that they were grateful for the transgender members of the military.

“Discrimination in any form is wrong for all of us,” tweeted Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.

Reaction from active military to veterans ranged from disgust to confusion.

“I opened up Facebook this morning and there’s this explosion of stuff,’’ said Marin County resident Selena Martinez, a 60-year-old Vietnam veteran who underwent transgender surgery eight years ago.

But the Veterans Affairs didn’t pay for the procedure, she said — only the hormone therapy and mental health services. The surgery itself was paid by Medi-Cal.

“To be treated like this by the president is infuriating and unbelievable,’’ said Martinez, who comes from a long line of military veterans and who served in the U.S. Navy from 1974 to 1976, at one point working on an ammunition ship.

“I defended people’s right to hate me because I’m transgender, but I also defended people’s right to love each other, whoever they are,” said Martinez.

On the other side of the country, U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Blake Dremann, who is openly transgender, said he and others were overwhelmed by Trump’s decision.

“All of a sudden their careers are in jeopardy,” said Dremann, who lives in Washington, D.C., and is the president of SPARTA, which advocates for transgender military service. “We are trying to maintain a sense of calm.”

He added that he will continue to serve “until the military tells us to hang up our boots.”

East Bay Democratic lawmaker Rep. Mark DeSaulnier labeled Trump’s decision “just ridiculous,” adding that Trump “is just playing to his base.”

DeSaulnier noted that the RAND study commissioned by the Obama administration had evaluated the cost of allowing transgenders to serve. “And they found the costs were so minimal; and at the same time, the Department of Defense’s $700-billion budget has never been audited,” DeSaulnier said.

“It’s just so hypocritical for him to take this step,” said DeSaulnier, ostensibly to save money but  “for a very, very small potential saving.’’

But Trump supporters also weighed in, including Jan Soule, president of the Silicon Valley Association of Republican Women, who called Trump’s call “absolutely the correct decision.”

“In fact, when I read that this morning, I was elated. I said, ‘Finally, we have a commander-in-chief, to actually be commander-in-chief.’ Obama was not a commander-in-chief,” she said.

Soule dismissed the public fury over “a really small number” of military personnel affected by the decision “when our target is ISIS and our target is to make America safe again — that’s what we need to focus on,” she said.

The veteran high-tech industry retiree also was undeterred by studies that show the issue involves a relatively small cost linked to medical procedures for transgender personnel, compared to the military’s overall budget.

“It all adds up — we are mortgaging our children’s future to the Chinese,” said Soule. “That is why Trump is president today. People are tired of this … spending on this and spending on that.”

That didn’t sit well with state Sen. Scott Wiener, a Democrat who represents San Francisco and northern San Mateo County, who called Trump’s decision a “bigoted move.”

“First, Trump attacks transgender children trying to use the restroom. Now he’s attacking trans soldiers who are putting their lives on the line for our country. This man has no shame,” Wiener said in a statement.

“This horrific move makes me want to fight harder to support and protect our transgender brothers and sisters,” said Wiener, who is openly gay.

Oakland City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan echoed that sentiment.

“Tyrants throughout history have used attacking various minority groups as a way to keep their own hold on power,” said Kaplan, who is also gay. “Today, we have another example of that pathetic behavior.”

Read the full story on the San Jose Mercury website