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Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel indicated his openness to reviewing the military’s longstanding ban on transgender servicemembers.
“I do think it continually should be reviewed,” Hagel said during a Sunday interview with ABC News’ Martha Raddatz. “I’m open to that, by the way.”
Although gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans have been able to serve openly since the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in September 2011, with no negative consequence, a medical regulatory ban still prohibits transgender military service.
An independent commission led by a former U.S. surgeon general and retired admiral concluded in a study released last month that there is no compelling medical rationale for banning transgender people from serving in the American military. According to that report, there are approximately 15,450 transgender personnel who currently serve in the military’s active, Guard and reserve components.
While Hagel said transgender military service was more complicated than gay and lesbian military service, due to the medical needs of some transgender people, Hagel said he was “open to those assessments” of lifting the ban.
“Again, I go back to the bottom line — every qualified American who wants to serve our country should have an opportunity if they fit the qualifications and can do it,” Hagel said Sunday. “This is an area that we’ve not defined enough.”
Hagel’s remarks were welcomed as a breath of fresh air from advocates who have seen those transgender Americans who do service in the military often ignored, including at the signing of the Defense Department’s updated Human Goals Charter last month.
“We look forward to a prompt and comprehensive medical review of these regulations, which is long overdue,” said SPART*A policy director, former Army Captain Allyson Robinson, in a statement. “Many of our allies, including the UK, Australia, and Israel, allow transgender people to serve with pride and honor in their armed forces. It’s time for the U.S. to join them.” According to Robinson, the military’s transgender medical regulations are “over thirty years old, are inconsistent with current medical practice, and negatively impact military readiness.” Moreover, they weaken the military and harm the estimated 15,000 transgender servicemembers who “currently serve in constant fear and stress.”
“A review of the thirty-year-old Pentagon medical regulations is necessary and timely,” said David Stacy, government affairs director for the Human Rights Campaign. “The fundamental principle that every employer should use to evaluate their personnel is ability and job performance–and this principle particularly applies to our nation’s Armed Forces. It makes no sense to exclude qualified transgender service members, and we are pleased Secretary Hagel endorses a review.”
James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s LGBT project, said “for the thousands of transgender individuals currently serving in silence throughout the Armed Forces, Secretary Hagel’s comments provide a measure of hope.”
“This willingness to evaluating changes to the medical regulations is overdue but very welcome,” added Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. “If the Secretary were able to meet and talk with the trans service members I’ve met, he’d understand the answer is self-evident. These are amazing people who serve even though they must hide a basic part of who they are.”