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Vermont Leaders Decry Trump's Ban On Transgender People Serving In The Military

President Trump's Twitter announcement that transgender people will no longer be permitted to serve in the military has triggered a strong reaction in Vermont.

Rep. Peter Welch was among those caught off guard by the President's tweets Wednesday morning in which he announced that transgender people will no longer be allowed to serve in the military. Trump cited the “tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”

“It's a terrible decision,” Welch said in a phone interview Wednesday afternoon.

“We have transgender soldiers – there are 15,000 or so – they put that uniform on same as any other service member, they risk their lives for this country, they're willing to serve and they're doing a good job," Welch said. "I think what President Trump did is disrespect the service commitment that those soldiers have made to all of us in Vermont and all of us in America."

Estimates of the number of people in the military who identify as transgender vary widely.  

The White River Junction Veterans Affairs Medical Centercontinues to have language on its website that says the medical center is actively supporting transgender veterans.

The policy states that: “We encourage all Veterans to inform their health care team of sexual orientation, gender identity, and sexual activity so we can provide the most appropriate care…Your name in your medical record reflects your legal name. The sex in your medical record should reflect your self-identified gender. You have the right to request that name and sex are updated as appropriate.”

Officials at the White River Junction VA declined to comment on whether the services offered to transgender veterans will change.

In addition to Welch, both of Vermont's U.S. senators – Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders – strongly condemned the policy change on Twitter Wednesday.

At a press conference Thursday, Governor Phil Scott echoed other Vermont officials' concerns about Trump’s announcement.

“He's once again come out with a statement that I believe should be fully contemplated by Congress," Scott said. "I think anyone who is willing to serve our country and is able should be allowed to do so.”

In Burlington, the Pride Center of Vermont issued a statement saying, among other things: “The Pride Center of Vermont recognizes and honors our transgender veterans and active service members. It is our belief that the many transgender individuals currently serving in the military deserve respect and better treatment from our elected officials, particularly from the Commander-in-Chief.  It is with utmost sincerity that we thank you for your service.”

As a candidate, Donald Trump campaigned in support of the LGBTQ community during the 2016 election cycle and tweetedin June of last year:  “Thank you to the LGBT community! I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs.”

Update 5:03 p.m. 7/27/2017 This post has been updated to reflect Gov. Phil Scott's comments on Trump's announcement.

Rebecca Sananes was VPR's Upper Valley Reporter. Before joining the VPR Newsroom, she was the Graduate Fellow at WBUR and a researcher on a Frontline documentary.
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