Donald Trump

‘My Heart Dropped': Transgender Reservist Reacts to President Trump's Plan for Military

Rudy Akbarian has been part of the military for more than five years and wants to continue serving his country

A Southern California transgender service member said he was surprised and saddened by President Donald Trump's announcement that he plans to bar transgender individuals from serving in the military.

Army Reservist Rudy Akbarian also works as an employment specialist at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, where he helps homeless LGBTQ youth find employment. Speaking at a news conference Wednesday, he said he heard about the announcement -- issued by President Trump early Wednesday in a series of tweets -- when he arrived at work. 

Akbarian said he was brought to tears. 

"I actually got to work this morning and one of my supervisors told me," Akbarian said. "At first, I didn't believe it. My heart dropped a little bit. It hurt." 

Akbarian, who has been in the military for more than five years, said he is openly transgender, a fact known to people in his chain of command.

"The discrimination I'm facing now is from outside the military, not the people who work with me," he said. "The military is an extremely diverse organization and it should stay that way. And I have to ask, why would any president prevent those who want to serve our country -- who are willing to lay down their lives for our country -- from doing so? We deserve the right to fight for what we love. As a trans service member I have fought very long and hard to be my authentic self. No one is going to take that passion or my love for this country away from me."

Trump said on Twitter Wednesday morning that he wants transgender people barred from serving in the U.S. military "in any capacity." He cited "tremendous medical costs and disruption" as the basis for the ban, which was lifted last year under the Obama administration. 

Since last Oct. 1, transgender service members have been able to receive medical care and start formally changing their gender identifications in the Pentagon's personnel system. Already, there are as many as 250 service members in the process of transitioning to their preferred genders or who have been approved to formally change gender within the Pentagon's personnel system, according to several defense officials, The Associated Press reported.

A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, said in a brief written statement that the Pentagon is working with the White House to "address" what he called "the new guidance" from the president. He said the Pentagon will provide revised guidance to Defense Department officials "in the near future."

The Pentagon has refused to release any data on the number of transgender troops currently serving. A Rand Corp. study last year estimated about 2,450 transgender people in active military, out of about 1.3 million troops.

A White House spokeswoman did not say what will happen to transgender troops currently serving in the military. Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday afternoon that the Department of Defense and the White House will work together to implement Trump's plans.

She did not provide a timeline for the process.

Akbarian said he is committed to continue his service to the United States.

"I've had too many people supporting me to just give up, so I don't plan on doing that," Akbarian said. "I love my country, the people I serve and the people who serve with me. I've had so many people reaching out to me about the president's tweets. Here are the facts: We are not a disruption to the military. In fact, we are a vital part of it. Transgender service members serve as aircraft crew, mechanics and even drill sergeants, and many other critical roles.

"Not everyone responded well after learning I was transitioning, but after spending time on missions and realizing we all share the same love for the country, we worked together and got the job done." 

Sanders described the move as a "military decision" and said Trump was concerned the current policy "erodes military readiness and military cohesion." She said the secretary of defense was notified Tuesday after Trump made the decision. 

Lorri Jean, CEO of the Los Angeles LGBT Center, said the center will contest Trump's proposal.

"They may harm us initially, but right is on our side for the long term," she said. "In the meantime, we will fight this policy reversal, not only for our community, but for our country. We will continue to fight Trump's attempts to attack and diminish LGBT people, which only serves to diminish all Americans.

"He dehumanizes the very people who have pledge to risk their lives for our country and the values that our nation stands for -- freedom, justice, liberty."

Amanda Goad, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, echoed Jean's remarks, and blasted the president for trying to "score cheap political points" on the backs of loyal service members.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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