As the president’s tweeted announcement divides his party, those directly affected react with anger and dismay: ‘Everybody is hurt. Everybody is scared’
Sasha Buchert was settling into her workday on Wednesday morning when she saw the news: on Twitter, Donald Trump had just announced that the US government would not “accept or allow” transgender people to serve in the military.
“It stunned and angered me,” said Buchert, a trans woman who served as a sniper in the US Marine Corps in the 1980s. “I was ready to fight.”
Buchert, now a staff attorney at the LGBT rights group Lambda Legal, is one of the many veterans and service members who reacted to Trump’s tweets with a mix of fury and dismay.
And her organization was one of several declaring it was ready to sue the Trump administration on behalf of thousands of trans men and women who are serving – many of them openly and without incident – in the armed forces. Already on Wednesday, ACLU attorneys were soliciting the names of trans service members who could affected by the ban. The signal to the White House was clear: a change of policy would find the government awash in new lawsuits.
“It’s hard to sue a tweet,” said Buchert, “but we can stand ready to look at all options as soon as this moves into any kind of serious policy, including litigation.”
On seeing the news Wednesday, Capt Jacob Eleazer, a therapist with the Kentucky army national guard, reeled at the possibility that his career was about to end.
“Fired by tweet,” he said. “It was honestly pretty shocking.”
Rudy Akbarian, a 26-year-old trans man and soldier, said: “Everybody is hurt. Everybody is scared.”
If the ban were to be reinstated, there is speculation service members could face a bad conduct discharge for being transgender, jeopardizing their job prospects and benefits.
“This is people’s lives we’re talking about,” Akbarian said. “People who enlisted nearly 20 years ago and now 18 or 19 years in, now that’s being taken away and they don’t get to retire?”
Trump’s tweet appeared to blindside his top military commanders and has divided Republicans in Congress.
On Thursday, Gen Joseph Dunford, the country’s top military officer, said the military would continue to allow transgender people to serve openly in the armed forces until the defense secretary was directed by Trump to make and implement a different policy.
The defense secretary, Jim Mattis, has made no public statements on Trump’s remarks.
Estimates of how many transgender people there are military service range from roughly 11,000 on active duty and in the select reserve to 15,000.
As scores of them voiced their anger on Wednesday, they were joined by several members of Trump’s own party.
“The Department of Defense has already decided to allow currently serving transgender individuals to stay in the military, and many are serving honorably today,” Sen John McCain said in a statement.
“Any American who meets current medical and readiness standards should be allowed to continue serving. There is no reason to force service members who are able to fight, train, and deploy to leave the military – regardless of their gender identity.”
Reinstating the ban, said Buchert, would force many to choose between their careers and their very identities – something she recalls with dread. As a marine, she dressed and acted like a man. But she lived with the fear that someone would see her wearing women’s clothing or notice her acting feminine.
“I served proudly for four years, and I loved it,” Buchert recalled. “But I always had to hide who I was. It was awful to be in constant fear that someone would catch me and turn me in.”
Buchert’s group is one of many that is ready to challenge the administration if it reinstates the ban. But for Buchert, the insult has already occurred.
“People who are putting their lives on the line every day to fight for this country shouldn’t have to live in fear for who they are,” she said. “They should have the opportunity to bring their full self to the workplace every day.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010