Commandant: 'I Will Not Break Faith' With Transgender Coast Guardsmen

Adm. Paul F. Zukunft (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley)
Adm. Paul F. Zukunft (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley)

As military services await guidance following President Donald Trump's announcement last week via Twitter of a ban on transgender service members, the commandant of the Coast Guard is speaking out, saying he has no intention of leaving transgender Coast Guardsmen out in the cold.

Speaking on the topic for the first time at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Tuesday morning, Adm. Paul Zukunft said his first action upon becoming aware of Trump's tweets was to have his office reach out to all 13 members of the Coast Guard who have self-identified as transgender.

"I reached out personally to Lt. Taylor Miller, who was featured on the cover of The Washington Post last week," Zukunft said. "If you read that story, Taylor's family has disowned her. Her family is the United States Coast Guard. And I told Taylor, 'I will not turn my back. We have made an investment in you, and you have made an investment in the Coast Guard, and I will not break faith.' "

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Miller, 27, is reportedly the first openly transitioning member of the Coast Guard, a process she began in 2016 after the Pentagon removed its standing ban on openly transgender service members and then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter ordered all services to draft policies to allow for transgender recruits and transgender medical care within the military.

The Coast Guard is the only military service to fall under the Department of Homeland Security, rather than the Department of Defense. But how Trump's tweeted ban will affect the service is just as unclear as with any of the others.

In a series of three tweets July 26, Trump said that "the United States 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."

To date, no further guidance has been provided.

The Palm Center, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that promotes the study of gay and transgender people in the armed forces, on Tuesday released a letter signed by 56 retired generals and admirals who oppose Trump's transgender ban.

The document also notes that two other four-stars and former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- retired Army Gen. Martin Dempsey and retired Navy Adm. Mike Mullen -- have publicly supported transgender service members.

"Transgender troops have been serving honorably and openly for the past year, and have been widely praised by commanders," the letter states. "Eighteen foreign nations, including the UK and Israel, allow transgender troops to serve, and none has reported any detriment to readiness."

The Family Research Council, a Christian public policy ministry in Washington D.C., has praised Trump's decision to rescind the Obama-era policy.

"As our nation faces serious national security threats, our troops shouldn’t be forced to endure hours of transgender 'sensitivity' classes and politically-correct distractions like this one," the group's president, Tony Perkins, a Marine veteran, said in a statement last week after the president's announcement.

After contacting his transgender troops, Zukunft said he reached out to then-DHS Secretary John Kelly, who was sworn in as White House Chief of Staff on Monday as part of a series of administration shake-ups. Kelly reached out to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Zukunft said.

"We stood up a tiger team of our JAG officers," Zukunft said.

The next steps remain to be seen, as does how Coast Guard leadership plans to shield its troops in the face of an administration mandate.

Neither Kelly nor Mattis have publicly offered insights into how Trump's tweets will apply to the military. But Zukunft's remarks send a clear message to transgender Coast Guardsmen in uniform, whether or not they are serving openly.

"That is the commitment to our people right now," Zukunft said. "Very small numbers, but all of them are doing meaningful Coast Guard work today."

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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