Defense Secretary Ashton Carter called the military’s ban on transgender persons “outdated” Monday and ordered a review of the details and results of lifting that policy, which likely will become the latest example of the Obama administration removing the Pentagon’s sex- and gender-related rules.
The military will form a military-civilian working group, led by Acting Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Brad Carson, to study over the next six months the policy and readiness implications of ending the longstanding ban on transgender troops serving openly.
“The Defense Department’s current regulations regarding transgender service members are outdated and are causing uncertainty that distracts commanders from our core missions,” Mr. Carter said in a statement. “We have transgender soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines — real, patriotic Americans — who I know are being hurt by an outdated, confusing, inconsistent approach that’s contrary to our value of service and individual merit.”
While the Obama administration’s repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2011 allowed homosexual troops to serve openly, and the Pentagon is supposed to open all combat positions to women barring compelling and specific reasons, transgender troops — persons who do not identify with their biological sex — can still be kicked out of the military for revealing this.
Mr. Carter said the working group will operate under the assumption that transgender troops can serve openly without an adverse effect on military readiness.
“We must ensure that everyone who’s able and willing to serve has the full and equal opportunity to do so, and we must treat all our people with the dignity and respect they deserve,” Mr. Carter said. “Going forward, the Department of Defense must and will continue to improve how we do both.”
According to sources speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity, there was no pushback from the top officers in the uniformed services in internal discussions at the Pentagon, with their concerns restricted to clarification issues such as what forms of sex-change therapy the military health care system would provide and what changes would be made to grooming and dress rules.
That approach — that the military will presume that the ban should be lifted and figure out the details — rankles critics who see the Obama administration as cutting the military’s fighting strength to decadeslong lows while using it as a social-engineering tool regardless of the impact on unit cohesion and military readiness.
“Considering the abysmal condition of our military and a decline in readiness, why is this a top priority for the Obama administration?” retired Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, Family Research Council’s executive vice president, said in a statement.
“Before changing any policy, the impact on military readiness has to be the first consideration. The Pentagon must answer whether this proposed policy makes our military more capable of performing its mission. The answer is a very clear and resounding no,” he said.
There are only about 15,500 transgender troops serving in the entire military today, so the change would affect a small portion of current service members. There are only about 700,000 transgender people across the U.S., according to a 2011 study from The Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, so lifting the ban would also have a small numerical effect on the number of recruits eligible for military service.
In Monday’s announcement, Mr. Carter also announced that Mr. Carson, a former Democratic U.S. congressman, will evaluate any separation decisions for transgender troops while the working group conducts its review.
A group supporting the families of LGBT troops, however, championed the anticipated changes and said it will be significant to those who will be able to both serve their country and be themselves.
“We are thrilled the Department of Defense will finally be taking the necessary steps to allow our transgender service members to serve openly and honestly,” said Ashley Broadway-Mack, president of the American Military Partner Association. “We look forward in anticipation to the announcement this week and being able to review the process and implementation.”
Rep. Jackie Speier, California Democrat, has been pushing for the ban to be repealed, and will introduce a bill on Capitol Hill this week that would prohibit the military from discharging transgender troops as well as address such transgender-specific issues as health care needs and uniform policies.
“Time is of the essence for the thousands of active-duty transgender soldiers who are currently in limbo,” Ms. Speier said. “The study group needs to come up with a comprehensive solution, not just lifting the ban.”
Rep. Timothy J. Walz, Minnesota Democrat and a retired command sergeant major in the Army National Guard, said he applauds the administration for “yet again leading the way on equality” with the review on the effects of lifting the ban.
“I believe that anyone who loves their country and is able and willing to serve their country should be allowed to do so, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity,” Mr. Walz said.
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