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WATCH: Air Force Secretary Supports Open Trans Service

WATCH: Air Force Secretary Supports Open Trans Service


Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James says it's time to review -- and rescind -- the military's ban on open service by transgender Americans.

At least one branch of the U.S. military is ready to see the nation's ban on open service by transgender Americans become a thing of the past.

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James sat down with USA Today's Washington bureau chief, Susan Page, for an interview published Wednesday, discussing the Air Force-led campaign against the terrorist group known as ISIS, navigating partisan gridlock on Capitol Hill, and expanding the cross-section of Americans eligible to serve in the armed forces.

Noting that policy changes within the past three years have allowed women to work in combat positions, and allowed gay, lesbian, and bisexual members to serve openly, Page asked the James if the military's ongoing ban against open service by transgender Americans "make[s] sense to you."

"You know, I think that is likely to come under review in the next year or so," replied James. "So I think we should stand by, and times change, and we'll just have to see what happens there."

When Page pressed James as to whether there was a "readiness reason" that transgender people should not be able to serve in the armed forces, James replied more frankly.

"From my point of view, anyone who is capable of accomplishing the job should be able to serve," said the Air Force secretary. "And so I wouldn't be surprised if this doesn't come under review."

While the 2011 repeal of the military policy known as don't ask, don't tell" cleared the way for gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members to be open about their identities while in uniform, the repeal had no impact on the medical regulation keeping transgender people from serving openly.

In May, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said he was "open" to reviewing the medical regulation that declares any gender-affirming clinical or social treatment sought by a military member to be evidence of a mental disorder and grounds for dismissal. In the seven months since, Hagel has announced his resignation upon the confirmation of his successor -- but has not scheduled a review of the trans exclusion policy.

A March report from the Palm Center determined that there is "no compelling medical reason" for denying transgender Americans the right to serve in the armed forces openly, dismissing claims by opponents that trans people require specialized medical care that could not be carried out in wartime environments. Research from the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles's School of Law has estimated there may be as 15,000 transgender Americans currently serving in the military, each at risk of being discharged based solely on their gender identity.

A more recent report from a commission made up of several retired high-ranking generals found that implementing open service for trans Americans would be "neither excessively complex nor burdensome" on the Department of Defense. At least 18 other Western nations, including the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Sweden, and Israel, have repealed their bans on open trans service, allowing trans citizens to serve their country openly and honestly.

Watch Page's interview with James below, with the conversation about trans military equality beginning at the 4:52 mark.

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