Admiral Paul Zukunft, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, made headlines yesterday afternoon after saying he would not ‘break faith’ with the Coast Guard’s openly transgender service members.
Immediately, many questioned whether the leader of one of the country’s five armed services was openly flouting the commander-in-chief’s wishes. Last Wednesday morning, President Trump surprised seemingly everyone in the country with a series of Tweets expressing his decision to ban transgender Americans from serving in the armed forces.
Trump’s tweets said that there would be no place in the military for transgender service members to serve ‘in any capacity.’ This comes a year after the Department of Defense, and through its affiliation as a member of the armed forces, the Coast Guard, implemented a policy that would allow current military members who are transgender to continue serving. If the Department of Defense were to move forward with a renewed ban on transgender members, despite being part of the Department of Homeland Security, the Coast Guard would follow suit.
Zukunft cited the example of one of 13 Coast Guard members who have been serving openly as transgender, an officer named Taylor Miller, who was featured recently in an article in the Washington Post. 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.’”
In the week since the President’s tweets regarding the trans ban, no official directive has come from the White House to the Department of Defense. Secretary of Defense James Mattis was reportedly distraught over the method in which the President chose to announce his policy, as the tweets would make the military’s transgender members feel unwelcome.
Nowhere in Zukunft’s comments did he say he would violate any lawful orders, including those existing or forthcoming. The military has been operating for a week now with no clear guidance on an extremely sensitive issue. In the absence of orders, Zukunft is defaulting on siding with his subordinates to whom he has already made a commitment. In my opinion, that is the mark of good leadership. Regardless of one’s opinion on the subject, I think there is an objective goodness in wanting to protect your guys, and not cast them out in a moment of uncertainty.
I have seen many people suggest that if an officer is voicing contrary opinions to the commander-in-chief, that is insubordination at a minimum, if not outright treasonous. I think at this point those words are a little hyperbolic, Zukunft has only expressed support for his trans subordinates at a difficult time. If he were to openly reject a lawful order from the commander-in-chief, my opinion would be different. But at this point, military leadership has literally nothing but three tweets of 140 characters to operate off of. If I had a transgender subordinate, how would I motivate them to give their best and feel like part of the team if they felt like they could be fired and removed from service at any moment?
The bottom line is, the military looked these trans members in the eyes and said ‘you are welcome here, you can continue to serve,’ and now may be forced to go back on their word. Whether the military leadership wanted to welcome trans members or not, it still happened. If I were a member of some minority group, I would want to know that my leadership at the highest levels is willing to go to bat for me, even at the risk of their career.
Featured image courtesy of AP