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A servicemember holds a leaflet during Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month at the Pentagon in June 2012.

A servicemember holds a leaflet during Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month at the Pentagon in June 2012. (Chad McNeeley/U.S. Navy)

WASHINGTON — The top U.S. general told lawmakers Tuesday that he advised President Donald Trump that transgender servicemembers should not be separated from the military based solely on their gender identity.

“I can promise that that will be my advice,” Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, told Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing to consider his reappointment as the military’s top officer. “What I have just articulated is the advice I have provided in private and I just provided in public.”

On July 27, Trump announced on Twitter a ban on transgender men and women serving in the military “in any capacity.” The president wrote he had consulted with generals and military experts before reaching his conclusion. His announcement – made official by a White House memorandum about a month later – cited “tremendous medical costs and disruption” to military units, but it caught top Pentagon officials, including Dunford, by surprise.

Transgender people were only approved to serve in the military openly just more than a year ago by Defense Secretary Ash Carter, after years of study on the issue.

On Tuesday, Dunford said he agreed with Gillibrand when she assessed that many transgender servicemembers had served with “honor and valor” and did not deserve to be removed from service simply for identifying themselves as transgender.

“I believe any individual who meets the physical and mental standards and is worldwide deployable and who is currently serving should be afforded the opportunity to continue to serve,” said Dunford, who is expected to be easily confirmed to serve a second term as chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

A bipartisan group of senators, including Gillibrand and Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., have introduced legislation that would protect transgender servicemembers from being removed from the military.

“These men and women across all services and occupations were told by the Department of Defense that they would be allowed to serve openly and continue in their military careers,” Gillibrand said. “Many have worked diligently within their chains of command to meet every requirement put forth by the former administration, and now they have been plunged into a career of uncertainty and their service and sacrifices have been unfairly tarnished.”

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has issued guidance that transgender servicemembers will be allowed to continue receiving Defense Department-approved medical care and can reenlist in the military at least until a panel of senior officials concludes a study on their service due by February.

Mattis has promised transgender servicemembers will not be removed from service until the panel, led by Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, has completed its study.

Dunford said Tuesday that he has not met with any transgender servicemembers since they were approved to serve openly last year, but promised Gillibrand he would in the near future.

It remains unclear precisely how many transgender people are openly serving in the military. Pentagon officials have declined to provide a specific number, saying there are “hundreds” of servicemembers who have identified themselves as transgender. The Defense Department has declined to release specific information about how many troops are now receiving medical treatment — such as hormone therapy or gender-reassignment surgery — for gender dysphoria.

A Rand Corp. study commissioned last year by the Pentagon to help it determine its transgender policy estimated there were between 1,320 and 6,630 transgender people among about 1.3 million active-duty troops.

dickstein.corey@stripes.com Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

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Corey Dickstein covers the military in the U.S. southeast. He joined the Stars and Stripes staff in 2015 and covered the Pentagon for more than five years. He previously covered the military for the Savannah Morning News in Georgia. Dickstein holds a journalism degree from Georgia College & State University and has been recognized with several national and regional awards for his reporting and photography. He is based in Atlanta.

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