Anti-LGBTQ Nominee Robert Wilkie Confirmed as Veterans’ Affairs SecretaryBy Shane Stahl • July 25, 2018 • 11:40 am
On Monday, July 23, the Senate confirmed Robert Wilkie to be the new Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs by a vote of 86-9.
Most recently Wilkie took over the panel convened to discuss open military service for transgender Americans, following his confirmation as Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness in July, approximately one week before President Trump tweeted his intention to ban open service for transgender people. On January 11, Wilkie issued a memo to the panel recommending the following:
- Transgender people can only join the military if they serve “in their biological sex”; if they took any steps to transition (or plan to), they are forbidden from joining.
- For transgender people who have been serving since before the attempted ban was announced, they must forego transitioning and any related medical treatment.
- A diagnosis of gender dysphoria (past or present) is disqualifying, except for those service members who came out as transgender when the ban was originally lifted.
A previous Congressional aide to the late, notoriously anti-LGBTQ Senator Jesse Helms, Wilkie is an appointee with a complicated history on LGBTQ issues. While employed for Helms, Wilkie was quoted as saying gay people were “weak, morally sick wretches,” and attacked Helms’ opponent for Senate, Harvey Gantt, for “courting money from the homosexual community.”
However, Wilkie did indicate that he may not completely dismantle protections for transgender people in the armed forces. During his nomination hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Wilkie stated that he would not change the existing health care policy in place for transgender soldiers, which includes limited post-gender confirmation surgery care and coordination of medication but does not fully cover all necessary medical care for transgender people. He also stated he is committed to keeping VA an all-inclusive workplace, and promised quick disciplinary action for any VA employees who are found to be guilty of discrimination.
While we are encouraged by Wilkie’s positive statements about LGBTQ employees and discrimination, it’s vital that he evolves on the realities of the anti-transgender military ban on those currently serving and those who wish to enlist. He has stated that discrimination in healthcare is wrong – now, Wilkie must make the connection that the transgender military ban is discrimination, in an egregious and shameful way.The ban as a whole is patently and unfairly discriminatory against transgender people.
The proposed ban on military service for transgender Americans has been tied up in court for the past year, since shortly after President Trump tweeted the major and discriminatory policy change in July 2017. More than a half dozen courts have ruled against the ban and halted it from taking effect. Just a few weeks ago the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit denied the Trump Administration’s request to reinstate the ban.