As It Happens

Veteran on Trump's transgender military ban: 'He endangered our troops'

Transgender veteran Kendall Balentine says U.S. President Donald Trump's ban on transgender people in the military is "shameful" and puts soldiers in harm's way.
U.S. veteran Kendall Balentine says U.S. President Donald Trump's transgender military ban is just a distraction tactic and it puts troops in danger. (Kendall Balentine)

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UPDATE: The U.S. will continue to permit transgender people to serve openly in the military until Defence Secretary Jim Mattis has received President Donald Trump's "direction" to change the policy and figured out how to implement it, the nation's top military officer said Thursday.

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Kendall Balentine says U.S. President Donald Trump's ban on transgender people in the military is "shameful" and puts soldiers in harm's way.

Trump vowed on Twitter Wednesday that under his administration, transgender people won't be allowed to serve in the U.S. military in any capacity, reversing a 2016 decision by Democratic president Barack Obama.

Balentine, a transgender woman from Deadwood, S.D., who served eight years with the U.S. marines and three with the army before she transitioned, spoke with As It Happens guest host Helen Mann about the president's announcement.

Here is part of their conversatioon. 

What did you think when you saw the president's tweet today?

I felt completely dismissed for the service that I'd already given to this country. And then the second feeling that I had was how scared I was for all those that over a year ago — when President Obama said: it's fine, be you — served proudly. And now they can't be themselves, and now they have crosshairs on them.

What are your concerns for them?

That he's made it open season to pick on people that serve our country. The fear of them having to feel like they have to go back into a closet and into a hole, and not be themselves.

That's the worst feeling anybody that's transgender can have, is not being able to be themselves.

What are you hearing from currently serving transgender service members now?

They're frightened. They're absolutely frightened. They don't know what the next steps are. They don't know where they're going. And these are people that actually served in Iraq, Iran, abroad, and were in war zones.

And one of them actually said the most ironic thing I've ever heard anybody say — that to serve overseas is more normal for them than to serve back in the United States, because they get to be themselves over there in a combat zone.

U.S. President Donald Trump made the announcement about transgender people in the military on his medium of choice — Twitter. (Chris Kleponis/Getty Images)

You have many years in the military, and of course you're in contact with folks like you just told us about. When you have spoken with superior officers, when you've interacted with people in high positions, how have you been treated?

Like a human being. Like you would be. Like anybody that's listening would be. Normal. I don't understand what the distraction is. 

President Trump says he talked to generals in making this decision, but what do you think?

 I don't think that he did. He can't justify it, because his justification was simple. It was cost of money in medical expenses. They've already done the cost analysis on this ... and they figure $8.5 million just to bring every person that's transgender up to speed.

This man spent over $20 million in less than 80 days travelling to Mar-A-Lago. I don't get his balance sheet. I don't understand it. 

Kendall Balentine served eight years with the U.S. marines and three with the army before transitioning. (Kendall Balentine)

There are some questions today about the president's motives. Why do you think he's doing this?

Transgender people are a hot topic here in the United States and it's easy to use them as another smoke-in-mirror tactic. And that's all this is, is a smoke-in-mirror tactic to take the limelight off his own indiscretions.

He says that in order to be victorious over its enemies, the U.S. must not allow transgender people to serve. Do you think that there's any danger to U.S. military strength by having transgender troops?

I have never heard, read or known of anybody that was transgender that impeded our military at all.

Where do you think this is headed? 

He shed a light on us. He put a light on us and we're in the spotlight, and we're going take what he did today and we're going to turn it into something positive.

The only bad outcome out of this is those who are currently serving today. That's it. They're the ones that are in danger. He endangered our troops. The commander-in-chief just endangered his own troops. Shameful.