Calling President Donald Trump’s directives to ban transgender people from serving in the military “a betrayal” and “unpatriotic,” former Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning has added his voice to a growing chorus of current and former military staff opposing the move.
“It’s unprecedented to say to a group of people we see that you are there, you can serve openly,” Fanning said on Sept. 6 in an interview during the Michigan Response to Hate Conference in East Lansing. “And then to change our minds and say those people who have identified themselves we’re kicking you out. It’s completely a betrayal and it’s unpatriotic in my view.”
As the 22nd Secretary of the Army, Fanning oversaw a comprehensive review of transgender military service questions under the Obama administration. The review resulted in allowing transgender people to serve.
He called the roll out of the ban “confusing.”
“Then when the president tweets this ban, first of all that’s a confusing way for him to communicate with the military,” he said. “We don’t know: is that policy? is that guidance? Is it just what was on his mind in the morning when he woke up?”
Fanning also took issue with the costs Trump has claimed transgender servicemembers cost the U.S. military, noting the actual costs, according to a study by the Rand Corporation was a “fraction of what we spend on Viagra.”
“There is absolutely analysis whatsoever to support these crazy numbers we are getting about transgender service,” he said.
He also trashed claims that allowing open trans service would somehow open the flood gates of transgender Americans entering the service. Current policy, he said, requires a person be stable in their gender for at least 18 months before they can join the military.
“I can’t imagine a transgender American who needs to transition adding boot camp on top of that,” he said.
Fanning was the first openly gay person ever appointed as a civilian leader of a U.S. military branch. He came from a military family, but because he was gay was unable to join. Instead he rose up the ranks first by serving as an aide in Congress then in various positions in the Pentagon. He was appointed to the post by President Barack Obama.
He was in Michigan to stump for Democrat Elissa Slotkin as she campaigns to challenge Republican Mike Bishop in the 8th Congressional District. He said Slotkin’s service in the CIA and the Pentagon make her a good choice for Congress, noting that she knows how to build consensus.
“I could have used a lot more Elissas in Congress,” he said, noting the acrimony that has marred Congressional action for nearly a decade.
While Secretary, Fanning also issued new rules on grooming for Muslims and Shiks serving in the Army. He said that was done because the military is at its best when it fully represents and looks like the country it is protecting.
But the military has a dark underside. White nationalists have for years been infiltrating the services in order to garner military training which they then share with other members of the movement. The problem was first addressed under President Ronald Reagan. Then Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger issued rules prohibiting service by white nationalists. The issue flared up again in 1996 after the Oklahoma City bombing which was carried out by two Army veterans. And it’s back in the news today following the Charlottesville Virginia protests last month.
“Absolutely we don’t need to accommodate it, in the military or in society,” he said of white nationalism. “I am like, most Americans, very alarmed by what I see, what I saw, in Charlottesville and thinking through what it is giving voice to that and what’s making that group of people feel empowered to speak up and act as they are. It’s absolutely not anything we should tolerate inside the military. In fact we do a lot to try to stamp it out.”
Despite pushback on various civil rights related to diversifying the American military as “experimenting,” he said it’s important.
“I resist that as strongly as I can. I don’t think equality, inclusion, opportunity are experiments, they’re American values,” he said. “But it is what keeps the fabric of the military strong. It’s about respect for someone who wears the uniform. The uniform leadership drills that in. Every soldier wearing the uniform on your right or your left deserves your respect.”