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Posted on May 16, 2019 Print this Article

Military Leaders Should Follow the Commander-in-Chief

Reinforce Rules of Personal Discipline, Putting Readiness First 

President Donald Trump has been working to restore sound priorities that promote military readiness, not demoralizing social agendas that the previous administration pushed to extremes.  Recent news reports suggest, however, that some Defense Department and military officials are not following the President’s lead.    

In March 2018, President Trump approved a new policy regarding persons who identify as transgender or suffer from gender dysphoria.  The policy approved recommendations made by former Defense Secretary James Mattis, following a six-month study that Mattis initiated. [1] 

The Trump/Mattis policy disqualifies persons diagnosed with gender dysphoria – one of many psychological conditions known to affect personal readiness to deploy.  New directives also provide exceptions for personnel “grandfathered” under Obama administration policies and include allowances for persons identifying as transgender if they have been “stable” for 36 months and serve in their biological gender. 

The Department of Justice has been vigorously defending the Trump/Mattis policy against lawsuits that LGBT activists filed in 2017, before the policy was even finalized.  On January 22, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court lifted lower court preliminary injunctions that were blocking the policy, allowing implementation to proceed while litigation continues.  The January ruling suggests that the government has a good chance of prevailing when the Supreme Court hears the merits of the case, possibly next year. [2] 

On March 12, the Pentagon issued Directive-Type Memorandum (DTM) 19-004, which instructed all branches and communities of the service to implement the Trump/Mattis policy regarding persons who identify as transgender, effective on April 12. [3]

Last year the Center for Military Readiness published a comprehensive report analyzing the Trump/Mattis policy. [4] The CMR Policy Analysis explained why the Trump/Mattis policy deserved support, but also noted several unresolved issues that would need to be addressed.

Military personal conduct rules, which impose restrictions beyond anything in the civilian world, require clarification and constant reinforcement.  To faithfully execute Trump administration’s policies, the Secretary of Defense should instruct subordinates to eliminate unusual interpretations that are causing confusion and inconsistencies with the administration’s intent.

      1. Navy Approves Off-Duty Expression of Transgender Sexuality

For example, Stars & Stripes recently reported that Navy Vice Adm. Robert Burke has signed a dress code policy statement stating that transgender personnel may “live socially” in their “preferred gender” when off-duty and not in uniform. [5] 

Admiral Burke, recently nominated to become Vice Chief of Naval Operations, claimed that appropriate civilian attire would not be based on gender.  His dress code, however, extends special privileges to transgender personnel wishing to “express themselves off-duty in their preferred gender” – presumably by cross-dressing in clothing associated with the opposite sex. 

Adm. Burke’s interpretation disregards the intent of the Defense Department Memorandum that authorized implementation of the Trump/Mattis policy on April 12.  DTM 19-004 states in several places that service members are expected “to adhere to all applicable standards, including the standards associated with their biological sex.” 

An LGBTQ military advocacy group official told NBC News that she is “thrilled” by the Navy’s interpretation of the policy, which gives to transgender service members “the option to dress and express themselves as they choose.”  Military service, of course, does not allow individuals to “dress and express themselves as they choose.” 

Admiral Burke’s problematic dress code allows special, unequal treatment for individuals who seek to live a double life “expressing” their sexuality after hours.  Full implementation of this policy in the Navy and other services could lead to unforeseen consequences that would undermine morale and the disciplined culture of the military.

Historically, military regulations regarding personal behavior have applied to individuals serving on-base and off-base, 24/7, for as long as a person remains in the service.  The military is different from the civilian world.  Armed forces personnel live in close quarters, subject to deployments worldwide on short notice.  Mutual trust and cohesion are necessary for survival in a combat environment. 

Personal misconduct that weakens morale or brings discredit to the service is not acceptable under the military’s unique code of behavior – the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).  This is why personal conduct rules, including dress and grooming requirements, should apply at all times, without exceptions for “sexually expressive” behavior by anyone.  

The Navy should reinforce these principles and encourage discipline by treating everyone the same, instead of adopting special-interest exceptions for persons identifying as transgender. 

Where Will the Line Be Drawn?

Under military standards for males, men are not allowed to wear their hair long, even though women can.  And neither gender has the option to live a double life, expressing their sexuality, for example, by dressing up in drag or performing suggestive pole dances in front of audiences after hours.

It appears that outgoing Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John M. Richardson and his likely successor, Vice CNO Adm. Bill Moran, haven’t thought this through.  On their watch, a 24-year-old sailor has been allowed to express his sexuality by performing in drag onboard the carrier USS Ronald Reagan. [6] 

According to Navy Times, self-identified drag queen Yeoman 3rd Class Joshua Kelley has been making himself happy by performing a campy striptease that begins with a blue Navy uniform, wig, and red high heels and ends with tights and splits.  If Yeoman Kelly can perform as his alter ego Harpy Daniels, why shouldn’t female sailors be allowed to entertain themselves and others by performing risqué dances on ships? 

The Navy’s current off-duty dress code defies the intent of DTM 19-004, which states in several places that service members are expected to adhere to all applicable standards, “including the standards associated with their biological sex.”  Whether intended or not, tolerance of the Navy’s rogue rules will cause confusion in the ranks and more special-treatment exceptions that will weaken and eventually nullify the Trump/Mattis policy. 

Other military personnel who identify as “LGBTQQIAPP+” also may like to express their sexuality in unusual ways, on- or off-duty. [7]  Given the wide variety of definitions in LGBT vocabularies, Pentagon officials will have to clarify where personal choice ends, and military discipline begins.

This is the Military: Reinforce Personal Conduct Rules

As CMR advised a year ago, there is a need for clarification to counter inappropriate and inconsistent interpretations of plain language in the Trump/Mattis policy.  A good place to start would be during the process of revising – and preferably withdrawing – several Defense Department documents that are referenced in DTM-19-004, Attachment 1. 

One of them is the September 2016 Defense Department Transgender Service in the U.S. Military Implementation Handbook, which a July 2017 CMR Special Report analyzed along with fourteen other Obama-era transgender policy directives. [8]  The handbook fully endorsed the vocabulary and ideology of doctrinaire LGBT activists who were invited to consult with Pentagon officials. [9]

It states, for example, “Gender is the socially-defined roles and characteristics of being male and female associated with that sex.”  It also states, “Sex is the assignment made at birth as male or female,” and in a transgender person, “gender identity and/or expression differs from their sex assigned at birth.”

These assertions are not backed by any evidence rooted in the realities of human biology.  Psychological conditions such as gender dysphoria deserve compassion and competent, non-politicized medical care that recognizes biological science.  Contrary to transgender ideology, a person’s individual DNA determines gender even before birth, at the point of conception. 

Gender is identified at birth, not “assigned.”   When a doctor delivers a baby, he does not turn to the nurse and say, “Get a blood sample and test for testosterone to see whether this is a boy or a girl, stat!” 

The Obama-era Implementation Handbook required mandatory indoctrination in doctrinaire transgender beliefs in all Defense Department schools and academies – the largest educational system in the world. 

It also addressed but did not resolve issues such as personal privacy infringements in conditions of forced intimacy, demoralizing pressures to violate personal values or medical ethics, erosion of trust in leadership, and diversion of scarce time and resources in pursuit of social agendas that are not consistent with reality or core values in the military.

Instead of revising this Transgender Handbook and other directives reflecting the same ideology, the Department of Defense should consider recommendations made in the April 2018 CMR Special Report:

“It is not clear whether persons who identify as transgender will be subject to disciplinary rules around the clock, 24/7, on-base and off-base.  Implementation regulations should make it clear that a military person’s personal behavior must meet designated standards at all times that he or she remains in the service.  . . .To avoid misunderstandings and other problems, the Department of Defense should update and clarify official Instructions defining acceptable behavior for all members of the military.” [10]

     2.  LGBT Pride Events

The April 2018 CMR Special Report analyzing the Trump/Mattis policy made this additional recommendation, which highlights another issue of concern:

“The Department also should discontinue annual events celebrating LGBT Pride month in June.  In recent years these events have been used as occasions to promote and pressure Congress for policies advancing the LGBT agenda, not military readiness.”  [11]

CMR has heard from several retired Marine officers who are very concerned about a recent official call for LGBT Pride Month observances in June at Marine bases worldwide.  MARADMIN 274/19, signed by Brig. Gen. W.H. Swan (Division Director, Manpower Plans and Policy), encourages USMC commanders to “promote participation” in LGBT Pride observances during the month of June. [12]

There is no doubt that President Trump and Pentagon officials are committed to positive values mentioned in the MARADMIN, but it does not follow that the Commander-in-Chief, the Department of Defense, the Department of the Navy, or any other branch of the armed forces should take time out to “celebrate” sexual minorities (or majorities, for that matter).

As far as we know, President Trump has never proclaimed LGBT Pride Month, and the Marines have not announced such activities before.[13]  One wonders why the outgoing Commandant, General Robert Neller, allowed a one-star Brigadier General to issue MARADMIN 274/19.  A retired three-star Marine expressed astonishment in a note to CMR:

“It is simply unfathomable to me why they would do something like this.  The long-standing theme in the Corps was, in my words,  "Don't accentuate the things that make us different; power lies in cohesion.”

In the same way that our military does not allow labor unions or political demonstrations in the Pentagon or military bases, activist events promoting LGBT causes and demands should not be sponsored by the Department of Defense or the military services.

It is no secret that LGBT activists are determined to eliminate the Trump/Mattis transgender policy, and to continue pressing demands for expensive surgical benefits for active-duty and retired military.  The National Center for Transgender Equality even told the AP that the Defense Department should extend subsidies for transgender medical treatments and surgeries to military dependents, including minor children who express confusion about gender identity. [14]

If LGBT Pride events are reinstated in all military communities, activists will resume using them as government-funded media events to promote demands such as these and more, on an incremental basis. 

On May 11, CMR received a letter from retired Master Gunnery Sergeant Jose L.  Trevino, a 30-year veteran of the Marine Corps who lives near Camp Pendleton, CA. [15]  Master Sergeant Trevino’s letter, excerpted below with the author’s permission, notes that the MARADMIN encouraging “LGBT Pride” amounts to a direct order, without any protections for people of faith who object to the LGBT agenda.

Master Sergeant Trevino recognized the obvious contradiction between the LGBT Pride Memo and an earlier one announcing implementation of the Trump/Mattis transgender policy.  He also commented on conflicts that the Memo creates in matters of religious liberty, plus the political implications of the Marine Corps appearing to take a position on the extreme side of controversial legislative initiatives promoting LGBT activist goals in California.

The Department of Defense is not obligated to host and subsidize lobbying fests for ideological pressure groups, including the LGBT Left.  Officers who do not understand this should be held accountable and not promoted to higher rank.

Why is this happening? 

According to at least one news report, a Pentagon official who helped to formulate previous transgender policies during the Obama Administration, Anthony Kurta, still is present in the Pentagon, identifying himself with the title he used as an Obama appointee in 2014. [16]

This raises questions and concerns.  Mr. Kurta has initiated or participated in past LGBT Pride Month celebrations in June at the Pentagon, even without presidential authorization.  He nevertheless was nominated to become Principal Deputy to the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel & Readiness – a key policy-making position. That nomination was withdrawn after it languished for more than a year without confirmation. [17]

[Note: Mr. Kurta has since retired from service in the Department of Defense.]

The adage “People Are Policy” is especially important in the Department of Defense.  All key positions should be occupied by qualified people who support sound policies and high standards that strengthen mission readiness, combat lethality, and the best qualities of military culture.

      3.  National Guard Units in Six States Defy Trump Transgender Policy

According to recent news reports, National Guard units in six states -- California, New Mexico, Nevada, Washington, Oregon, and New Jersey -- have refused to implement the Trump/Mattis transgender policy. [18]

National Guard units are under the control of each state’s governor, but military service eligibility requirements are the responsibility of the Secretary of Defense.  Several of the governors objected to policies based on “gender identity.”  These comments indicate that they do not understand the Trump/Mattis policy. 

The March 12 implementation Memo, which was specifically addressed to the National Guard Bureau and all branches and communities of the military, clearly stated that the Trump/Mattis policy regarding persons who identify as transgender or have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria is based on a medical condition, not “gender identity.”

If the Pentagon allows the state National Guard units’ misinformed defiance to stand, inconsistent interpretations of the Trump/Mattis policy soon will extend to other states and branches of the service, creating confusion and operational problems whenever National Guard units are brought under federal control.

Should Acting Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan be confirmed as the next Secretary of Defense, he will have the responsibility to support sound policies and to choose qualified appointees who will implement them faithfully.

Secretary Shanahan also should hold accountable any civilian or military officials who try to make their own rules, employing career penalties, if necessary.  President Trump is working hard to restore sound priorities in the military, and Pentagon authorities should give him full support.

* * * * * *

The Center for Military Readiness is an independent, non-partisan public policy organization, founded in 1993, which reports on and analyzes military/social issues.  More information is available on the CMR website, www.cmrlink.org.  To make a tax-deductible contribution to CMR, please click here.



[1] CMR Policy Analysis: Trump/Mattis Transgender Policy Promotes Military Readiness, March 2019 update, 4 pages.

[2] CMR: Trump Administration Wins Appeals Court Victory in Military Transgender Case, and Concurring Opinion of Judge Stephen E. Williams of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, Jane Doe 2 v. Trump, March 8, 2019.  This article summarizes the important timeline that Judge Williams incorporated in his Concurring Opinion:  CMR: Military Transgender Policy Timeline & DoD Summary Graph.

[3] Department of Defense Directive-Type Memorandum (DTM-19-004) Military Service by Transgender Persons and Persons with Gender Dysphoria, March 12, 2019, 15 pages with Attachments.  The document was signed by Mr. David L. Norquist, who is Performing the Duties of the Deputy Secretary of Defense.

[5] Joshua Karsten, Stars & Stripes: Navy Allows Transgender Sailors to Dress According to Gender Identity While Off-Duty  Apr. 15, 2019, and Nico Lang, NBC News: Navy to Allow Off-Duty Sailors to Dress in Accordance with Gender Identity, Apr. 11, 2019.   There is no indication that Adm. Burke intended to allow dress-code exceptions for “grandfathered” transgender personnel only.

[6] J. D. Simkins, Navy Times: Sailor by Day, Performer by Night — Meet the Navy’s Drag Queen, ‘Harpy Daniels’, Aug. 30, 2018.  If the example of ‘Harpy Daniels’ is applied in a gender-neutral way, some women may want to participate in Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) events showing off their exotic dancing skills as “performance art” on ships or elsewhere while off-duty.  No one has explained how practices such as will help to improve the Navy and defend the nation, especially when COs and XOs are being dismissed right and left for allowing undisciplined behavior on their ships.

[7] According to an LGBT website run by the Trans Student Educational Resources (TSER), the acronym LGBT+ represents “A collection of identities short for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, aromantic, pansexual, polysexual (sometimes abbreviated to LGBT or LGBTQ+). 

[8] Department of Defense, “Transgender Service in the U.S. Military Implementation Handbook,” Sept. 30, 2016, 71 pages. 

[10] CMR Special Report, April 2018, FN #4, supra, pp. 24-25.

[11] CMR Special Report, April 2018, FN #4, supra, p. 25.

[12] USMC MARADMIN 274/19: LGBT Pride Month, signed by USMC Brig. Gen. W.H. Swan, Division Director, Manpower Plans and Policy, May 7, 2019.

[14] Ben Finley, AP, Transgender Military Insurance Story, October 3, 2016.  The Hill also has reported that Lambda Legal and the Transgender Law Center are demanding expensive benefits for veterans seeking transgender surgeries.  Rebecca Kheel, Transgender Vets Seek VA Coverage of Surgeries, May 11, 2016. 

[15] Letter from Master Gunnery Sergeant Jose L. Trevino, May 11, 2019.  Excerpts: “This MARADMIN pertains to the 2019 Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month for June. It states: ‘commanders are ‘encouraged’ to take time to recognize the 2019 LGBT Month and to promote participation in observance events’. [They are] 'further encouraged to conduct programs and promote participation in observance across their local communities.’ In some Marine circles, the word ‘encourage’ coming from a superior officer means the same as a direct order.

“This MARADMIN does not state what options are available to Marines if they do not participate in these events due to their religious beliefs. Will these Marines be subject to administrative or legal action if they do not participate due to their religious beliefs?  . . . [A]cross California parents, to include Marine parents, are uniting to fight The California Healthy Youth Act (AB 329); that directs harmful and extremely xxx-rated sexual education starting at the kindergarten level.  With the Marine Corps giving the impression of promoting the LGBT agenda, it makes it stressful on Marine families trying to fight the sexual orientation indoctrination of young children under the disguise of the Healthy Youth Act in public and charter schools.  This affects combat readiness and unit morale . . . [Perhaps]the Marine Corps should focus only on warfighting and readiness and stay out of the social engineering business.

[17] The Department of Defense website still describes Mr. Kurta as Performing the Duties of  the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel & Readiness).  Also see Travis Tritten, Washington Examiner, Trump Withdraws Pentagon Nominee After Year-Long Delay, Oct. 4, 2018.

Posted on May 16, 2019 Print this Article