The head of the Coast Guard said Tuesday he would not "break faith" with transgender troops under his command, despite President Donald Trump's recent announcement that he was going to ban the small pool of service members from serving.
Adm. Paul Zukunft's strong remarks came during an appearance at the Center for Strategic and International Studies Tuesday, less than a week after the president said on Twitter that "the United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military."
Zukunft said that following the tweets, he had his office contact the 13 service members in the Coast Guard who identified as transgender, including Lt. Taylor Miller, the branch's first openly transitioning officer.
"I reached out personally to Lt. Taylor Miller, who was featured on the cover of The Washington Post last week," Zukunft said. "Now 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.' "
"That is the commitment to our people right now," Zukunft said. "Very small numbers, but all of them are doing meaningful Coast Guard work today."
With the Pentagon awaiting direction from a White House that has provided little clarity beyond the president's three tweets last week, Zukunft's pledge could easily be construed as the opening salvo in a military-led push to prevent a total rollback of the 2016 decision that allowed transgender troops to serve openly.
Following Trump's announcement, Zukunft said he called then-Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly and that Kelly, a retired Marine General who has since been tapped to serve as White House Chief of Staff, contacted Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
While Mattis, who was on vacation last week, has yet to make any public remarks on the new ban, Zunkuft alluded that the Coast Guard, which falls under the Department of Homeland Security, had already tasked a "tiger team" of legal officers to help contend with the impending policy shift.
Despite Trump's tweets, the Pentagon has made no change to the Obama-era policy that removed the ban on openly serving transgender troops and pushed the military branches to find ways to include and recruit transgender Americans. Last month, Mattis delayed the implementation of the final part of the policy by six months, stating it needed further review.
On Thursday, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford said in a message to military leadership that there would be "no modifications" to the current policy until further direction was received from the president.
"In the meantime, we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect," Dunford said.
A 2016 Rand Corp. study commissioned by the Pentagon estimates that there are about 11,000 transgender troops in the reserves and active-duty military. In a statement to the Palm Center, a think tank that has helped the Pentagon research transgender policy, 56 retired generals and admirals came out against Trump's proposed ban Tuesday, saying that it would "degrade military readiness."
"The Commander in Chief has tweeted a total ban of honorably serving transgender troops," their statement said. "This proposed ban, if implemented, would cause significant disruptions, deprive the military of mission-critical talent, and compromise the integrity of transgender troops who would be forced to live a lie, as well as non-transgender peers who would be forced to choose between reporting their comrades or disobeying policy."
Andrew deGrandpre contributed reporting.