By early next year, transgender individuals will likely be allowed to serve openly in the military, Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said Monday. The Pentagon is putting together a working group that will conduct a six-month investigation to ensure that lifting the ban on openly transgender service members will not impact the military’s effectiveness. If the investigation is successful, one of the last barriers to military service for LGBTQ people will be eliminated.
“The working group will start with the presumption that transgender persons can serve openly without adverse impact on military effectiveness and readiness,” Carter said in a Department of Defense press release, which also acknowledged that many trans folks are already serving. The group will focus on finding and eliminating practical barriers to open service.
“[We] want to make our conditions and experiences of service as attractive as possible to our best people in our country,” Carter told a town-hall meeting in Kandahar, Afghanistan. “I don’t think anything but their suitability for service should preclude them.”
In 2011, the military repealed its “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy barring lesbians, bisexuals and gay men from openly serving in the military. At present, trans people wanting to serve in the military face a similar policy: They can sometimes serve in the military, depending on their superior officers’ knowledge of or leniency towards their true gender identities, but if officially discovered, they must be discharged. It’s estimated that over 15,000 trans individuals serve in the military today.
“We have transgender soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines—real, patriotic Americans—who I know are being hurt by an outdated, confusing, inconsistent approach that’s contrary to our value of service and individual merit,” Carter said in the DoD press release.
Organizations such as Human Rights Campaign (HRC) applauded Carter’s announcement, with HRC President Chad Griffin calling the barrier against trans service members an “outdated ban that for far too long has discriminated against qualified transgender Americans who simply want to serve their country.”
“We are confident that the Pentagon’s review of this discriminatory policy will find what many have come to know is true: Transgender Americans have every right to serve their country openly and honestly,” Griffin continued in a press release, “and their sense of patriotism and duty is no less than any other service member’s.”
Photo courtesy of the Human Rights Campaign.