In an interview on ABC News' This Week with George Stephanopoulos, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel hinted at upcoming reviews of the military's current policy, which bans trans citizens from serving.
"The issue of transgender [service members] is a bit more complicated, because it has a -- a medical component to it," Hagel told ABC's Martha Raddatz Sunday. "These issues require medical attention. Austere locations where we put our men and women in -- in many cases, don't always provide that kind of opportunity. I do think it continually should be reviewed. I'm open to that, by the way. I'm open to those assessments, because, again, I go back to the bottom line. Every qualified American who wants to serve our country should have an opportunity if they fit the qualifications and can do it."
The military has frequently responded to questions about whether there remained a legitimate reason to deny trans individuals the right to serve by citing the aforementioned point, arguing that the "austere locations" in which service members may find themselves might not be conducive to the specific medical care some trans individuals may require.
In March, the Palm Center released a study reviewing the medical basis used to deny trans individuals the opportunity to serve openly in the military. The commission behind the study, led by former U.S. surgeon general Dr. Joycelyn Elders, declared that there is "no compelling medical reason" for the military's ban on trans service members to continue.
Many advocates for open trans service expressed encouragement from Hagel's statement, though they remain only cautiously optimistic.
"The willingness to evaluating changes to the medical regulations is overdue but very welcome," National Center for Transgender Equality executive director Mara Keisling said in a statement. "If the Secretary were able to meet and talk with the trans service members I've met, he'd understand the answer is self-evident. These are amazing people who serve even though they must hide a basic part of who they are."
"We appreciate that Secretary Hagel recognizes that these medical regulations are over 30 years old, are inconsistent with current medical practice, and negatively impact military readiness," said former Army Captain and current policy director of LGBT military advocacy group SPART*A Allyson Robinson. "An estimated 15,000 transgender service members currently serve in constant fear and stress: people like Petty Officer Landon Wilson, just back from Afghanistan, who served with distinction until being drummed out simply because of who he is. We have heard story after story of commanders who question these policies because their transgender troops are valued by their units and contribute to their readiness."
Hagel did not provide any sort of timeline on possible policy review.
Watch Hagel's interview with Martha Raddatz below: