'You Don't Just Quit': California Hits Back at Trump's Transgender Military Ban

People protest President Donald Trump's decision to bar transgender people from serving in the military, in a march through San Francisco's Castro neighborhood on July 26, 2017. (Polly Stryker/KQED)

President Donald Trump's announcement early Wednesday that transgender people would no longer be allowed to serve was met with swift reaction and strong opposition among California's transgender military community and congressional delegation.

Trump made the announcement in a series of tweets, concluding with: "Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming ... victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail."

The decision comes after the Obama administration announced last year that transgender people could serve openly in the military.

'You Don't Just Quit': California Hits Back at Trump's Transgender Military Ban

'You Don't Just Quit': California Hits Back at Trump's Transgender Military Ban

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The news brought Rudy Akbarian to tears. Akbarian said he was a transgender service member of more than five years, and that he enlisted because he loves the United States and "wanted to be part of something greater than myself."

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"The military has taught me so much. It has empowered me to channel the strengths that I never knew I had. In the military, there is no giving up. You don't just quit. I've had too many people supporting me to just give up, so I don't plan on doing that," he told a crowd at a rally at the Los Angeles LGBT Center.

"We are not a disruption to the military. In fact, we're a vital part of it," he added. "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."

A RAND study from 2016 estimated that there were between 1,300 and nearly 6,700 transgender service members in active duty, and from 830 to 4,160 in the selected reserve. Not all transgender service members would seek gender transition-related health care, the study found, but for those who did, health care costs to the military would increase by between $2.4 million and $8.4 million a year -- or a 0.04 to 0.13 percent increase in active-duty health care expenditures.

California's congressional delegation -- mostly Democrats -- denounced Trump's move.

"On this very day in 1948, President Harry Truman signed the executive order desegregating the U.S. military. Sixty-nine years later, President Trump has chosen this day to unleash a vile and hateful agenda that will blindside thousands of patriotic Americans already serving with honor and bravery," Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said in a statement. "It is a cruel and arbitrary decision designed to humiliate transgender Americans who stepped forward to serve our country."

But Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter, of Lakeside in San Diego County, applauded the decision.

“The President’s decision was the absolute right decision. National security should trump social experimentation, always," he said in a statement. "It’s about time that a decision is made to restore the warrior culture and allow the U.S. military to get back to business.”

Palm Center, a San Francisco-based independent institute whose work includes research on sexual minorities in the military, said Trump was "creating a worse version of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell' " -- the Clinton-era policy banning gay men and women from serving openly that was repealed in 2010. 

"As we know from the sad history of that discredited policy, discrimination harms military readiness. This is a shocking and ignorant attack on our military and on transgender troops who have been serving honorably and effectively for the past year," the center said in a statement.

The Pentagon referred questions about the policy reversal to the White House.

"We will continue to work closely with the White House to address the new guidance provided by the Commander-in-Chief on transgender individuals serving the military. We will provide revised guidance to the Department in the near future," said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, Pentagon spokesman.

The decision reverberated throughout California's transgender community.

The Oakland-based Transgender Law Center said Trump had tweeted "highly inaccurate and offensive statements about transgender people, citing the ‘disruption’ our existence creates to try to set military policy.

"Sadly, this is just one in a series of his attacks on our community -- one of the most dangerous this week being his continued push to rob millions of people of health care, which would be a death sentence for many transgender people who rely on the Affordable Care Act for basic preventative care and life-saving treatment," the group said.

Late Wednesday, people marched from S.F.'s Castro neighborhood to City Hall to protest against Trump's decision and to support the transgender community.

KQED's Polly Stryker, Cesar Saldaña, Peter Arcuni and Scott Shafer, and Jenny Hamel of KCRW contributed to this report.

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