Slamming changes made to foster LGBT inclusion in the U.S. military during the Obama administration, Donald Trump pledged Monday to "get away from political correctness" when asked about openly transgender military service and women serving in combat roles.
The candidate made the comments n Herndon, Va., alongside Tony Perkins, president of the anti-LGBT Family Research Council, in the same forum where he raised eyebrows for suggesting veterans who kill themselves after suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder did so because they couldn't handle the pressures of war.
After an audience member asked Trump what he'd do about women in combat and openly transgender troops, comparing their inclusion in the military to political correctness, he replied, "We're going to get away from political correctness, and we are going to have to do that."
Trump compared movement toward greater inclusion in the armed forces to opposition to "the whole concept of profiling" in law enforcement. The candidate has defended the controversial practice of racial profiling, including after the terrorist acts last month in Minnesota, New Jersey and New York.
"I mentioned the other day profiling," Trump said. "Everyone goes, 'Oh, profiling, profiling!' Well, profiling, in Israel they're doing it and they're doing it well, and we may have to do that and we have to do other things. But you're right. We have a politically correct military and it's more and more politically correct every day, and a lot of the great people in this room don't even understand how it's possible to do that."
Trump asserted confusion over why the military is moving forward with greater inclusion is the result of "intelligence, not ignorance," saying the changes U.S. troops have to endure in the name of political correctness are "ridiculous."
In June, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced after a nearly year-long review the U.S. military would end its ban on transgender people serving in the U.S. armed forces "effective immediately." The announcement came months after the Pentagon announced it would begin to allow women to serve in combat roles.
While Trump stopped short of committing himself to reverse those changes, he said he'd allow senior military officials — and noting a recommendation from a lawmaker in the audience, even low ranking troops — to review the changes and take guidance on appropriate policy.
"I will say I would leave many of the decisions of some of the things you mentioned to the generals, the admirals, the people on top, and we get some — the congressman just mentioned to me, and I think it's true, 100 percent — you get your top enlisted people in that and you have discussions with top enlisted people who know it better than probably anybody. But we get our military people to come back and make recommendations to me, and I will follow those recommendations."
One of Trump's leading military advisers, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, has already suggested he would advise Trump to roll back the changes. On the first night of the Republican National Convention, Flynn in apparent criticism of transgender military service criticized the preoccupation of U.S. troops with "trivial matters about what words to use, what terminology is politically correct and what bathroom door to open up."
"My God, my God, war is not about bathrooms, war is not about political correctness or words that are meaningless," Flynn said.
Trump's deference to military leaders conceivably could lead to a reinstatement of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." When Congress repealed the statute, lawmakers left nothing in its place addressing gay people in the armed services, allowing the Pentagon to decide the policy. Although such a change would be extraordinary given the U.S. military has accepted gay service members in the last five years, a Trump administration could undo that.
Matthew Thorn, executive director of the LGBT military group OutServe-SLDN, said greater inclusion in the armed forces, including transgender service, isn't a matter of being politically correct but instead preserving "the foundation of our freedoms."
"Our service members and veterans have risked and continue to risk their lives for the fundamental rights that our democracy is built on, the freedoms that allow Mr. Trump to even stand before an audience and make absurdity out of our armed forces and veterans," Thorn said. "Transgender service members and veterans have earned the same respect and honor as any other soldier, airman, sailor or Marine and Mr. Trump should be mindful that the leadership of the Pentagon has agreed, everyone who is able to serve should be allowed to serve regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity."
Thorn said belittling transgender military service members and veterans afflicted with post-traumatic stress disorder is consistent with his criticism of a Gold Star family as well as "disgusting and vile and unbecoming of any individual who would want to hold the highest office in our government."
"It is very difficult to imagine after today how Mr. Trump can proclaim his love and support for our military and veterans when in the same breath he can willfully admonish those who serve and protect this country with honor and their lives," Thorn said.