Retired Col. Sheri Skowkowski — the highest ranking transgender military officer ever — is worried that President Trump is being swayed by outside influences after he announced Wednesday that the US military would not accept transgender people.
"I think he's being influenced by Pence," Skowkowski told Business Insider, adding that his decision also "sells to his base."
Trump's announcement is a reversal of President Barack Obama's decision in 2016 to allow transgender people to openly serve, though the implementation of that policy had been delayed.
Trump said in a tweet that allowing transgender people to serve would burden the military with "tremendous medical costs and disruption."
But allowing transgender people "would have minimal effect on readiness and lethality," Skowkowski said, citing a 2016 RAND Corporation study that indicated how allowing transgender people to openly serve would have "little or no impact on unit cohesion, operational effectiveness, or readiness."
Skowkowski noted that 18 US allies have "deployed transgender people with minimal effects," adding that allowing transgender people to serve openly produces better results.
"I would've been a better leader if it was out in the open," she said. "Being out in the open allows trans service members to focus on the jobs they're doing, with no fear of being outed."
Skowkowski said, further, that being transgender has no effect on ability or performance, noting that she maxed the Army Physical Fitness Test while serving.
Prior to Obama's 2016 decision, transgender people were barred from openly serving. That ban was based on an American Psychiatric Association Task Force manual from the 1970s, which classified being transgender as a disorder. Being transgender is now considered dysphoria, not a disorder.
Skowkowski said that Trump's decision puts US policy towards transgender people "back 40-50 years," but she didn't seem surprised.
"Cultural change always lags behind formal recognition of any issue," she said.
"It's difficult to say" what will happen next, the colonel said, but "the military teaches us to fight, and the Administration shouldn't be surprised when we do."
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