Dalila Ali Rajah
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U.S. Transgender Military Ban Could End in May

U.S. Transgender Military Ban Could End in May

Transgender Americans could be able to serve openly in the U.S. military by May 27, 2016, USA Today reports.

The national newspaper obtained a Department of Defense memo that reportedly lays out a prospective timeline for changing the longstanding military regulation that currently designates self-proclaimed transgender Americans categorically unfit to serve in the Armed Forces. 

USA Today continues: 

"The memo, circulated last week among top personnel and medical officials, lays out the road map for ending the policy and highlights some of the potential issues, including a pilot program that would provide leaves of absences for transgender troops being treated with hormones or having surgery."

The memo also reportedly offers the potential reconsideration of the discharge status of ransgender veterans who were separated under the soon-to-be-changed regulation, as well as pondering whether transgender troops would be eligible for deployment in war zones. 

The news comes less than a month after a Pentagon working group first met to determine the logistics of repealing the longstanding policy, following the orders of Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, who in July announced the creation of that working group, stressing that its members would "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." 

Carter initially outlined a six-month timeline for implementation of the new policy, which 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 to suffer from a "psychosexual condition" which makes them unable to serve. Notably, secretaries of the ArmyAir ForceNavy and Marines had all previously escalated the level of commander who could discharge transgender troops to a Pentagon-level official in recent months. 

Since Carter's announcement on 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. 

Those same advocates estimate that more than 15,000 transgender Americans are already serving in the Armed Forces, whether on active-duty or in the reserves. Similarly, several large-scale studies have determined there is "no compelling medical reason" to exclude transgender Americans from military service.

While USA Today reported it had aquired a copy of the memo, The Advocate could find no such memo or public statement by Carter on the Department of Defense's website, and therefore could not immediately verify its authenticity. 

Advocacy organization SPARTA, which serves transgender service members, veterans, and other allies and LGB members of the military community, was similarly hesitant to comment on the reported timeline laid out in USA Today.

"The review directed by Secretary Carter has only recently begun, and has months yet to go," SPARTA president Sue Fulton tells The Advocate via email. "We have no reason to believe that the leaked draft is anything other than some proposed questions, topics, and possible approaches. We will wait for the Defense Department to comment officially, rather than respond to rumors."

Other advocates, including transgender service members and veterans, celebrated the news. Transgender former Navy SEAL Kristin Beck and active-duty Army Sgt. Shane Ortega issued the following statement: 

"The ending of this ban gives hope to a more inclusive future. Now, we are living out the true meaning of our Constitutional creed — to honor and respect all gender identities of our service members. Today our military has been lifted up. We move from strength, to strength in defense of the greatest country in the world."

"We are elated and moved," added Sean Sala and Ashleigh Barazza, co-founders of the Military Freedom Coalition, of which Ortega and Beck are members. "The trend of the U.S. Military is headed towards the unmovable truth that all men are created equal. We are proud that the Military Freedom Coalition led the way to this human rights victory. We give special thanks to Kristin Beck and Shane Ortega who risked their private lives, public image and legacies to stand up and fight. History will remember their sacrifice."

"For far too long, transgender service members and their families have been forced to serve in silence," said American Military Partner Association president Ashley Broadway-Mack in a statement. "If indeed the Pentagon targets May of next year as the date to officially lift the ban, it will not get here soon enough. All service members and their families, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, deserve to be able to serve our nation proudly and authentically."

This story is developing. Check back for updates.

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