In a statement issued on Twitter Wednesday morning, US President Donald Trump announced that transgender Americans would no longer be allowed to serve in the armed forces “in any capacity”, ostensibly reversing a landmark decision by the Defense Department last year to overturn its longstanding ban on openly transgender service members. While the precise impact of the president’s statement is not yet clear—tweets do not constitute an official change in policy, no ban has been formally implemented, and any attempt to do so will likely face numerous legal challenges—it quickly sparked outrage among transgender Americans, including the estimated 15,000 currently serving in the military, as well as LGBT anti-discrimination advocates.
A number of high-profile CEOs were among the many public figures to voice opposition to the decision on Wednesday, Jena McGregor reported at the Washington Post:
First out of the gate on Twitter appeared to be Google CEO Sundar Pichai, who expressed his gratitude for transgender members who serve. Twitter’s CEO, Jack Dorsey, wrote that “discrimination in any form is wrong for all of us,” and Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote that “we are indebted to all who serve. Discrimination against anyone holds everyone back.”
Both Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s CEO and chief operating officer, expressed their support and gratitude, as did Airbnb’s Brian Chesky and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, a frequently outspoken advocate on gay rights issues who led many CEOs to speak out on legislation in Indiana while Vice President Mike Pence was governor, as well as in other states, such as North Carolina.
Silicon Valley has been particularly forthright in standing up for the rights of transgender people as conservative lawmakers in several states have undertaken to limit protections against discrimination for this community. Dozens of companies, including but not limited to the giants of the tech sector, have spoken out against efforts to force transgender individuals to use restrooms corresponding with their sex at birth rather than their expressed gender identity, including most recently a “bathroom bill” being considered in a special session of the Texas state legislature (The state senate passed that bill on Tuesday).
Companies that have taken activist stances in favor of greater protections for the transgender community make their case in both moral and business terms: Public policies that enable bullying and discrimination against transgender people, they say, harm their efforts to develop an inclusive workforce and hinder their ability to attract talent in the jurisdictions where these policies are enacted.
While Trump’s attempt to prevent transgender people from serving openly in the military has no direct impact on employers other than the Pentagon, advocates and attorneys warn SHRM’s Allen Smith that it could spark a workplace backlash against trans people:
The president’s new policy may intensify backlash against transgender people, according to Jerame Davis, executive director of Pride at Work, AFL-CIO, a nonprofit that represents lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals. Training to prevent such backlash is in order, employment attorneys say.
“It is possible that individuals may take the tweets as encouragement to act in a discriminatory manner against transgender individuals. Employers must be aware of their legal obligations to address any potential backlash,” said Nathaniel Glasser, an attorney with Epstein Becker & Green in Washington, D.C. …
HR should be aware that Trump’s decision “will impassion people on both sides of the issue. Managers need to be educated about transgender issues, and companies should adopt a zero-tolerance policy regarding harassment of transgender employees,” [Elizabeth Marvin, an attorney with Lewis Baach in Washington, D.C,] said. “Work should be a place where transgender employees feel safe and are not judged.”