‘We Treat Everyone With Dignity and Respect’: Air Force Secretary on Trump’s Transgender Ban

Air Force Secretary Dr. Heather Wilson on Tuesday weighed in on President Trump’s order banning transgender people from serving in the military, saying that universal respect for all service members is of utmost importance, regardless of their sexual orientation.

“The Chief of Staff and I have tried to make clear that we treat everyone with dignity and respect,” Wilson told PBS Newshour Anchor Judy Woodruff Tuesday at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit. “Every airman who is wearing the uniform is an airman and they are worthy of dignity and respect.”

President Trump first said in July that he would no longer allow transgender Americans to serve in the military. One month later, Trump officially ordered the Department of Defense to prohibit new transgender recruits from enlisting in the military, reversing a policy implemented under the Obama administration. He also gave the Pentagon a six month window to devise a plan for transgender Americans currently servin. Secretary of Defense James Mattis said at the time that he would take advantage of that six month window to convene a panel of experts to come up with recommendations.

“When we get new guidance from the Secretary of Defense, we will implement that guidance,” Wilson said Tuesday. “That working group is working out the policies that will go into effect early next year.”

Trump in January nominated Wilson, a former Air Force officer, to serve as Secretary of the Air Force; she was confirmed in May. From 1998 to 2009, Wilson served as a Congresswoman representing New Mexico. She declined to run for reelection that year, choosing instead to run for Senate, though her bid was unsuccessful. From 2013 to 2017, she served as President of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.

Woodruff also asked Wilson about the military’s preparations for a potential conflict with North Korea, and if Americans should be prepared for war. Although Wilson stressed that the U.S. Air Force must be prepared for military conflict, and that North Korea’s nuclear capabilities are historically unprecedented, she emphasized that diplomacy should supersede armed conflict.

“We want everyone in the world, particularly those who wish us harm to want to deal with [Secretary of State] Rex Tillerson and not Secretary Mattis,” she said.”That’s kind of our objective here.”

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