ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Another tweet from President Trump took many by surprise yesterday when he said transgender troops would no longer be allowed to serve in the armed services. Today the Pentagon said it will not change its policies for transgender troops until it gets more details from the White House. Outside of Washington, reaction was strong from critics and supporters alike, as Scott Shafer of member station KQED reports.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) Trans rights are under attack. What do we do?
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Stand up, fight back.
SCOTT SHAFER, BYLINE: Hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets last night in San Francisco's Castro neighborhood, epicenter of the city's LGBT community. Transgender people, veterans, religious leaders all turned out to protest President Trump's new policy on military service.
MEGAN ROHRER: For those who are putting themselves on the line and literally putting their skin at risk, the least we can do is to help them feel comfortable in their bodies as they fight for us.
SHAFER: That's Megan Rohrer, a transgender pastor, who turned out to protest the new policy and Trump's description of transgender troops as a financial burden on the military.
ROHRER: I think that soldiers are anything but a burden. I think they're people who are sacrificing their bodies. And the more that we can do to care for them so that their minds and bodies and spirits are whole and healthy, the stronger our military will be.
SHAFER: Also there Travis Smith, a gay veteran who spent eight years in the Navy.
TRAVIS SMITH: From serving myself in the military with multiple different sexualities of people, I've never seen a burden to the military or how it affected their I guess oath of service. So I just disagree 100 percent.
SHAFER: Of course, the president's announcement has its supporters, too. Retired Air Force veteran Larry Cain, who lives in San Diego, says Trump did the right thing.
LARRY CAIN: In the battlefield, you're there to kill and break things. And we don't need time out to, oh, I'm having a hormone disorder now. I need time out. The cohesion isn't there.
SHAFER: Cain, who served in Vietnam, says he doesn't much care if transgender personnel work office jobs as long as they're kept off the battlefield.
CAIN: It just doesn't work. Too much - not so much resentment 'cause there is skepticism and the perception that you may not be able to count on that conflicted person to be there when you need them.
SHAFER: Studies by the RAND Corporation found that integrating transgender troops into the military would have minimal financial costs and little impact on readiness. Before he retired two years ago, San Franciscan William Reed spent 33 years in the Army and Air Force. He thinks the president's announcement was meant to distract attention from other issues like the Russia investigation. And he says he doesn't trust Trump's judgment on military issues.
WILLIAM REED: Especially for someone who never served before and doesn't understand in the military how you depend on your brother and your sister next to you, and it's irregardless (ph) of what that person is - being black, white, Jewish, whatever.
SHAFER: The president's early-morning tweets leave many questions unanswered, especially for transgender troops currently on active duty. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says all service members will continue to be treated with respect. Transgender veterans like Teresa Sparks from San Francisco are worried. Sparks spent eight years in the Navy, including three years in Vietnam. Now she wonders how the new policy could affect people like her.
TERESA SPARKS: Is he going to cut off my benefits because I was a veteran and served? Will I no longer be able to buy a house under the GI Bill? Will I no longer get education benefits? Will I no longer get health care?
SHAFER: Questions like those did not seem to be taken into consideration when the president announced his policy change via Twitter. Those directly affected by it are waiting for answers. For NPR News, I'm Scott Shafer in San Francisco.
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