Trump Bans Transgender People from US Military
President Donald Trump says the U.S. military will no longer let transgender people serve in any capacity, reversing a policy former President Barack Obama's administration announced a year ago.
In a string of Twitter comments, Trump said Wednesday that after consulting with generals and military experts, he was ordering the armed forces to stop accepting transgender recruits.
"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," Trump wrote.
Trump did not say what would happen to transgender people already in the U.S. military - about 4,000 personnel, according to research by the Rand Corporation.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said later that Trump will "have to work together" with the Defense Department to "lawfully determine" the fate of transgender service personnel already in the military.
She rebuffed reporters' inquiries suggesting that Trump had broken an election-campaign vow to support the transgender community. The president felt his decision was "the best one for the military," Sanders said.
In addition to service members known to be transgender, defense officials said there are about 250 military personnel who are believed to be transitioning to a gender other than the one they were identified with at birth.
Trump's announcement came one day ahead of a deadline for the military to update its medical regulations to accommodate transgender personnel, but the Pentagon appeared to be caught off-guard when the president issued his Twitter comments.
The Defense Department said it was referring all questions about the change in policy to the White House. The Pentagon said it would "continue to work closely with the White House to address the new guidance provided by the commander-in-chief," and then brief military officials.
Trump's action drew an immediate rebuke from a leading group supporting transgender rights and many lawmakers who had favored last year's policy change.
Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin said, “I know transgender service members and vets who have done more to serve their country than @realdonaldtrump has in his entire life."
One of the country's most prominent transgender activists, Chelsea Manning, an Army intelligence analyst freed recently from prison for leaking classified military documents to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, said, "So not only do you want to ban trans people, now you want to throw us in prison ?? sounds familiar."
A senior Republican lawmaker, Senator John McCain, held as a prisoner of war in Vietnam in the 1960s, chided Trump for taking up such a serious issue on Twitter, and said the statement was unclear: "The Department of Defense has already decided to allow currently serving transgender individuals to stay in the military, and many are serving honorably today. Any American who meets current medical and readiness standards should be allowed to continue serving."
Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican, said, "No American, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity, should be prohibited from the honor and privilege of serving our nation."
"Thousands of transgender service members defend our country," Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire said in a tweet. "They're patriots & should be applauded not discriminated against by Pres Trump."
Another Democrat, Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, said: "The thousands of transgender Americans serving in our #military are courage incarnate. They are patriots. And they deserve better than this."
Hundreds of people also gathered Wednesday in both New York and San Francisco to protest Trump's decision.
Nationwide Strike in Venezuela Enters Second Day
Venezuelan opposition forces will take part Thursday in the second and final day of a nationwide strike aimed at forcing President Nicolas Maduro to cancel an upcoming vote to create a constitutional assembly.
Millions of workers stayed home Wednesday, leaving streets and highways clear of traffic and scores of businesses closed. Some protesters threw up roadblocks in neighborhoods to keep people from getting to work, leading to clashes with security forces that left at least one person dead.
President Maduro has scheduled a vote for Sunday, July 30 for a constitutional assembly to restore order in Venezuela, where more than 100 people have been killed in near daily violent clashes between protesters and security forces since April.
Opposition leaders say Maduro intends to assume more authoritarian powers once a constitutional assembly acceptable to him is chosen.
Leopoldo López, an opposition leader, called on Venezuelans Wednesday to continue peaceful street protests, and encouraged the military to ignore government orders to clamp down on activists.
A planned protest march on Friday in the capital, Caracas, will follow the 48-hour walkout.
Meanwhile, the United States announced new sanctions Wednesday against 13 individuals connected to the Venezuelan government and state oil company, in an further effort to pressure Maduro call off Sunday's vote.
A senior Trump administration official said the individuals targeted include high-ranking current and former officials connected to the Maduro regime, including two Cabinet ministers, the national elections director, the vice president of finance for state-run oil company PDVSA, and the country’s army and police chiefs, among others.
In a statement accompanying the sanctions announcement, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said further sanctions are possible after the election Maduro has called for Sunday: "Anyone elected to the National Constituent Assembly should know that their role in undermining democratic processes and institutions in Venezuela could expose them to potential U.S. sanctions.”