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Transgender People Can Still Serve for Now, U.S. Military Says - NYTimes.com

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WASHINGTON - Transgender people can continue to serve in the military for now, Pentagon leaders said on Thursday, scrambling to clarify the confusion surrounding President Trump's abrupt announcement a day earlier that transgender people would no longer be accepted or allowed in uniform.

In a letter to the military service chiefs, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the policy on who is allowed to serve would not change until the White House sends the Defense Department new rules and the secretary of defense issues new guidelines.

"In the meantime, we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect," General Dunford said in the letter.

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Dana White, the chief Pentagon spokeswoman, said the Defense Department would provide detailed guidance in the "near future" on how Mr. Trump's tweets will be turned into policy.

The open-ended nature of their comments reflected the challenge facing the Pentagon: how to put in place a policy that was announced without a plan to do so.

In announcing a reversal of previous policy in three tweets, Mr. Trump upended years of debate at the Pentagon over how to treat men and women in the military who do not identify with the gender that they appeared at birth. Lawmakers and stakeholders in both parties said that making such a sudden announcement without a plan to carry it out demonstrated the folly of Mr. Trump's attempt to govern by tweet.

"I respect the leadership at the Pentagon, and the deliberative way they have done this," said Tyler Deaton, a senior adviser to American Unity Fund, a Republican advocacy group that supports rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. "I think now the only person who disagrees with their approach in a formal way is the president. And the only indication we have is a tweet storm on a Wednesday morning in July."

Defense officials are also reluctant to bar active-duty service members who are transgender. A number of officials expressed skepticism about whether the Pentagon would, even if it wanted to, be able to roll back what many advocates call a basic civil right: to serve in the all-volunteer military.

Mr. Trump's tweets were part of an effort to woo conservative Republicans and resolve a dispute that threatened a roughly $790 billion military spending bill. But a number of Republicans objected.

"We need to have a hearing, not a tweet," Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, told the Post and Courier newspaper. "Let the military tell us about the policy change, what it does, does it affect the people currently serving and what is the recommendation."

The Pentagon had little to officially say on Wednesday, and General Dunford's memo on Thursday cast further doubt on Mr. Trump's assertion that he had made the decision after consulting his military advisers.

The sudden announcement was a stark contrast from other major Pentagon decisions about who can join the military.

In 2010, the Senate struck down a ban on gay men and lesbians serving openly in the military, ending a 17-year struggle over a policy that forced thousands of Americans from the ranks and caused others to keep their sexual orientation secret.

Eight Republicans joined Democrats to repeal the law, a relic of the Clinton era that was known as "don't ask, don't tell," which critics said amounted to government-sanctioned discrimination that treated gay and lesbian troops as second-class citizens.

But the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" did not address the question of how to treat transgender people in the military. It took the Obama administration another six years to resolve that issue. It announced in June 2016 that transgender service members could serve openly, and that the Defense Department would work to figure out how to allow transgender recruits.

Last month, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis delayed a decision on whether to allow those recruits, saying that an extra six months would give military leaders a chance to review the potential impact.

But since the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," the issue of L.G.B.T. rights has gained traction more widely, including with Republicans. Mr. Trump's policy reversal received lukewarm Republican endorsement, at best.

While Republican Senators James Inhofe of Oklahoma and David Perdue of Georgia supported the move, a number of other Republicans joined Democratic lawmakers in criticizing it. Besides Mr. Graham, seven other Republican senators indicated that they would not support throwing transgender people out of the military. Among them were Senators John McCain of Arizona, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Joni Ernst of Iowa, a member of the panel; and Senators Richard Shelby of Alabama and Thom Tillis of North Carolina.

"The service of men and women who volunteer and who meet our standards of service is a blessing, not a burden," tweeted Gen. Martin Dempsey, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

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