The U.S. military's long-standing ban on open service by transgender Americans could be banished to the history books in as little as six months, according to a report from the Associated Press.
Just hours after the AP broke the story, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter confirmed that the Pentagon is working on a plan that would allow transgender troops to serve openly in the U.S. Armed Forces.
"The Defense Department's current regulations regarding transgender service members are outdated and are causing uncertainty that distracts commanders from our core missions," said Carter in a statement published on the Department of Defense's website. "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have transgender soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines — real, patriotic Americans — who I know are being hurt by an outdated, confusing, inconsistent approach that's contrary to our value of service and individual merit."
Carter's statement confirmed that he has issued two directives to address ending the longstanding ban on military service by transgender Americans:
"First, DoD will create a working group to study over the next six months the policy and readiness implications of welcoming transgender persons to serve openly. At my direction, the working group will start with the presumption that transgender persons can serve openly without adverse impact on military effectiveness and readiness, unless and except where objective, practical impediments are identified. Second, I am directing that decision authority in all administrative discharges for those diagnosed with gender dysphoria or who identify themselves as transgender be elevated to [Acting] Under Secretary [of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Brad] Carson, who will make determinations on all potential separations."
Just weeks after taking office in January, Carter told a group of troops deployed in Kandahar, Afghanistan, that he was "open-minded" about allowing transgender Americans to serve openly. Among those enlisted troops hearing the Secretary speak in February was at least one transgender U.S. airman, military advocates note.
The six-month timeline for implementation would give commanders of each service branch time to address medical, legal, and administrative issues involved in overturning the longstanding regulation that has, since the 1970s, declared transgender Americans categorically unfit to serve. Notably, secretaries of the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines had all previously escalated the level of commander who could discharge transgender troops to a Pentagon-level official in recent months.
Veterans and active-duty members of the military who are currently serving in silence are eager to see the outdated policy revised, with a focus on speedy, smooth implementation.
"We are elated at the announcement that soon officially the transgender military ban will be eliminated," reads a joint statement from retired Navy Seal Kristin Beck and active-duty Army Sergeant Shane Ortega, who was the subject of an in-depth profile in The Advocate in May. "This brings ease to selfless heroes who deserve equal dignity and respect. We look forward to continually working with the Obama Administration and Pentagon officials on a clean, swift and effective plan to close out this chapter of discrimination. Today is a great step forward for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for the United States of America."
Advocacy groups pushing for open military service for transgender Americans were quick to applaud the apparent step forward, while advising celebrants to wait until the final regulations are revealed and solidified.
“Today’s announcement is welcome news, not just for the 15,500 transgender personnel serving currently, but for all Americans," said Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, which conducted several of the large-scale studies determining there was "no compelling medical reason" to exclude transgender Americans from military service. "The Pentagon should move quickly to replace the ban with inclusive policy, and its review process should be informed by the social science research that explains how to do so. Both the research as well as the lessons of 18 foreign militaries that have lifted their bans on transgender personnel show that lifting the ban will not be difficult.”
“We are thrilled with Secretary Carter's announcement that the Department of Defense is finally taking steps to lift the ban on transgender military service,” added American Military Partner Association President Ashley Broadway-Mack. "All qualified Americans should be able to serve our great nation, regardless of their gender identity. Lifting the ban will dramatically improve the lives of our transgender service members and their families by allowing them to serve authentically."
“Every day, countless courageous service members are forced to live in the shadows and serve in silence due to the discriminatory ban on open service by transgender people in the Armed Forces," said Democratic House leader and California Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi in a statement. "As the Department of Defense moves toward lifting this ban, America moves closer to fulfilling our fundamental ideals of ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ for all."
"We welcome and applaud the announcement by Secretary Carter that the military will at last conduct a comprehensive review of the outdated ban that has for far too long discriminated against qualified transgender Americans who simply want to serve their country," said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin. "The time for ending the military's ban on transgender service is long overdue, and we are confident that the Pentagon's review of this discriminatory policy will find what many have come to know is true: Transgender Americans have every right to serve their country openly and honestly, and their sense of patriotism and duty is no less than any other service member's. Our military and our country will be stronger when this archaic policy is finally discarded and we look forward to that day."
“Trans people are willing and able to serve their country, and should be able to do so while remaining true to who they are," said Joshua Block, senior staff attorney in the American Civil Liberties Union’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and HIV Project. "The Pentagon announcement confirms what we have known for a long time: outdated military regulations, which automatically label trans service members as medically unfit for duty, have no basis in reality. Over the past year, service branches have allowed some individuals to serve openly without risking immediate separation, but the regulations on the books keep those service members and their commanders in a constant state of administrative limbo. Everyone has been waiting for senior officials to provide clear leadership on this issue. It sounds like that leadership is coming — and not a moment too soon.”
"This is a tribute to the honorable military service of thousands of transgender Americans," said Allyson Robinson, Army veteran and director of policy at SPARTA, an advocacy and support organization for LGBT service members, veterans, and their families. "There is much more to do, but the Secretary’s clear intent to treat transgender soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines with the same dignity and on equal footing with other service members aligns with the core values of our Armed Forces. We stand ready to provide resources to the Working Group for the regulations changes required to take care of all the troops."
"Six months is more than enough time to hammer out the details. This isn’t new ground," continued Robinson. "A number of our military allies deploy transgender troops alongside American forces down-range, as do DOD contractors. Police and fire departments have managed transgender inclusion. I’m confident that our military leaders can handle this as smoothly as the repeal of 'don't ask, don’t tell.'"
"Today's Department of Defense announcement is a positive sign that they understand that open trans military service is desirable and inevitable," said National Center for Transgender Equality Executive Director Mara Keisling in a statement. "The Pentagon's rickety system of discrimination against us is falling apart. It is in everyone's interest that the 15,000 or so currently serving trans people be allowed to serve openly and honorably. The Pentagon knows, as we do, how this review is going to end. The National Center for Transgender Equality urges the Department of Defense to quickly end the discriminatory policy and allow trans people to serve openly and with dignity."