DoD’s highest-ranking trans official: ‘Ostracizing anybody’ will hurt military readiness

And those against transgender troops say Skelly is part of the problem.

“I am not aware of any issues with ASD Skelly’s performance,” Spoehr said in an email, adding that her civilian status puts her in a different category than the troops with which he’s most concerned. But, he added, “it is ironic ASD Skelly is responsible for readiness for the entire DoD.”

Some opponents say the acceptance of transgender troops also risks alienating people from more conservative areas such as the South. Even so, a recent Army survey found only 5 percent of young people listed “wokeness” as an issue they’d consider when deciding whether to join.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), who are part of the small but vocal contingent of conservatives who believe DoD’s diversity initiatives are hurting the military, introduced the legislation to ban transgender Americans from serving.

And if President Donald Trump is reelected in 2024, he’s widely expected to reinstate his 2017 ban. He has already promised to roll out policies that would cut federal funding for any school pushing what he called “transgender insanity” and put limits on the type of medical care transgender youth can receive.

Skelly called the Trump administration a dark time in her life. She was trying to find a new full-time job outside of the administration when Trump announced his ban. Skelly said that’s the moment she saw herself, for the first time, as part of a targeted segment of the American population.

“That we, the royal we, the United States, would make a determination for a specific, very discrete slice of America, one of the smallest breakdowns of America you can make, and say ‘you are unworthy and incapable of serving your country,’ made me more emotional than any public policy initiative ever had,” she said. “I’ve never felt something so personally in American history.”

More to be done

After Skelly left the military, she began working for defense contractor ITT Exelis, which she said was supportive when she transitioned. She joined the Obama administration in 2013, serving in multiple roles, including as special assistant to the under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics. After Biden won the 2020 election, Skelly joined the DoD transition team.