Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump spoke at a forum in Herndon, Va., on Monday alongside Tony Perkins, president of the anti-LGBTQ lobbying group Family Research Council.
Trump was slammed for several comments he made during the discussion—most notably for criticizing veterans with PTSD by saying they “can’t handle it.” But it was a different statement that rattled the LGBTQ community.
When asked about women and transgender people serving in the military, Trump suggested he was open to turning back the clock on progress.
“We’re going to get away from political correctness,” Trump said in response to the question, which referred to “women in combat” and “transgender rights” in the military as “social experiments.”
Trump then quickly pivoted to the "concept of profiling"—saying “profiling is, you know in Israel they’re doing it, and they’re doing it well, and we may have to do that”—before circling back to America's "politically correct military." The GOP presidential hopeful then suggested decisions about issues like transgender equality in the armed forces should be made by “the generals, the admirals, the people on top.”
“Some of the things that they are asking you to do, and be politically correct about, are ridiculous,” Trump added.
LGBTQ organizations and military veterans quickly decried Trump’s comments as backward. Mara Keisling, director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, told NBC OUT that Trump’s statement “politicizes an issue that shouldn’t be political in the first place.”
“It implies that service by the 15,000 current active duty trans soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen is about anything other than military readiness,” Keisling said. “What the Pentagon cares about is making sure that the best people can serve in the military, and that’s what this policy does.”
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Cassidy Delgardo, a major in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, said Donald Trump and "mainstream America" need to realize transgender people have already been serving in the military.
"I've been serving for over 25 years in the military. Hiding, but doing my job effectively and efficiently. For anybody to say that this is new—it's not new, it's just actually acknowledging that we have highly intellectually qualified trained individuals who just want to be able to serve openly without hiding anymore," Delgardo said. "The LGBT community has been repressed for many years in the military. Now I know I can be open about who I am, which takes a lot of emotional stress off of me."
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The ban on openly transgender service members in the military was lifted in June 2016, five years after the “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) policy on openly gay service members was repealed in September 2011.
“Allowing transgender people to serve their country isn’t about politics, it’s about extending them the respect and dignity every service member deserves,” Jay Brown, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement. “This is yet another example of the grave threat that Donald Trump and Mike Pence pose to LGBTQ Americans.”
Trump’s controversial comments came just days after the Pentagon released its implementation handbook, titled “Transgender Service in the U.S. Military.” The handbook offers detailed policies on privacy issues, health insurance coverage, testing and other issues—as well as a guide for cisgender service members on how to respectfully work alongside trans colleagues.
The Trump campaign did not respond to NBC OUT’s request for comment prior to this article's publication.