Coast Guard commandant signals he will resist military transgender ban

The commandant of the Coast Guard said Tuesday he will not “break faith” with transgender members following President Trump’s tweets about a total ban on their service in the military.

Adm. Paul Zukunft said his first call after hearing of the ban last week was to one of 13 Coast Guardsmen who have come out as transgender under the Pentagon’s year-old policy of open service.

“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, recounting the conversation during a talk at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “And so, that is the commitment to our people right now.”

Reached after Zukunft’s appearance, the Coast Guard said it would not elaborate on his statements.

“His comments are his own,” said Lt. j.g. Emma Lutton, a spokeswoman. “The Coast Guard is going to look after its people, so we are going to follow closely with the [Defense Department] on their human resources policies. So, we are currently in contact with them on how the president’s comments are going to affect our policies.”

In the wake of Trump’s announcement, the admiral said his second call about the transgender ban was to retired Gen. John Kelly, then the director of Homeland Security, and then Kelly contacted Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

The Coast Guard then set up a “tiger team” of legal expert officers from the Judge Advocate General’s Corps to deal with the situation.

Trump’s announcement on Twitter caught many in the military off guard and even top leaders received no advanced notice. The Pentagon said it is following existing personnel policy that allows open transgender service until it receives further guidance from the White House.

“After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military,” Trump tweeted on July 26. “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.”

It is unclear whether Trump’s ban would affect the Coast Guard, which operates under the Department of Homeland Security, not the Department of Defense. Under Title 10 of the U.S. Code, which outlines the role of the military, the Coast Guard is considered a member of the “armed forces.”

At the White House, spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said she was unable to comment on Zukunft’s remarks.

“I can’t at this time, it’s something I’d have to check into and get back to you,” she told reporters. “I haven’t heard those comments or had a chance to speak with any[one] about it, but I know the goal is to work with all of the departments, primarily the Department of Defense, to lawfully implement that new policy.”