The Pentagon is moving quickly to dismantle the military's long-standing ban on service by openly transgender Americans, with the first meeting to accomplish that goal set for Monday, according to USA Today.
In the meantime, the estimated 15,500 transgender Americans currently serving in the armed forces can rest a bit easier, as Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter issued a memo Tuesday outlining how the ban will fall and instructing top military officials to prepare to integrate transgender service members within six months.
"The working group will start with the assumption that transgender persons can serve openly without adverse impact on military effectiveness and readiness unless and except where objective, practical impediments are identified, and shall present its recommendations to me within 180 days,” Carter wrote in Tuesday's memo, reports USA Today.
This latest development comes less than three weeks after Carter announced the creation of a working group tasked with identifying any "objective, practical impediments" to transgender Americans serving openly in the Armed Forces. Since July 13, any discharge orders or reenlistment denials for transgender troops have had to be "personally approved" by Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Brad Carson.
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 long-standing 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Veterans and active-duty members of the military who are currently serving in silence are eager to see the outdated policy revised, with a focus on speedy, smooth implementation. When Carter first announced the pending change earlier this month, many of those groups issued statements commending the move.
"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," Robinson continued at the time. "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.'"
“[This month'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.”