The U.S. Army has taken a step that makes it more difficult to discharge transgender troops, but other branches of the armed forces have yet to follow.
The Army announced Friday that it was elevating authority to discharge transgender service members from local to the assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and reserve affairs, the highest level to which that authority has ever been assigned.
"In essence, the announcement places a moratorium on dismissals by requiring officers to explain their decision to discharge a transgender soldier to a high-ranking civilian leader, a move many would view as potentially damaging to their careers," reports USA Today.
The Department of Defense took a similar step in the final months of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which barred gay, lesbian, and bisexual troops from serving openly, notes LGBT military group SPARTA. A military member's transgender status, if it becomes known, remains a basis for discharge.
"Today's action by the Army helps over 6,000 transgender soldiers serving in silence. It also helps their commanders, who are increasingly stymied trying to apply 1970s medical policy to today's Army," said Allyson Robinson, former Army captain and SPARTA director of policy, in a Friday press release. "While transgender service members welcome this step, they recognize it is only a stopgap measure aimed at making a failing policy fail less. What they and their commanders need is a comprehensive, department-level policy review."
The action also provides no protection for over 9,000 transgender personnel serving in the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps, SPARTA officials note. New Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter "has already indicated support for transgender service members; he needs to turn those words into action and order a top-down review to get to a policy that works for our military," Robinson said.
Other activists similarly praised the Army's move but called for additional action. It "is a big step in the right direction," Joshua Block, staff attorney for the LGBT and HIV projects at the American Civil Liberties Union, told USA Today. "But it is still just a step, and there is urgent work that still remains to be done. The most encouraging provision of the new policy is be provision suggesting that more comprehensive revisions may be coming within the next 12 months."