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The White House signaled their support Friday for a Pentagon review of the military’s longstanding ban on transgender servicemembers.
Asked by Metro Weekly if President Barack Obama supports such a review, which Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said earlier this week he is open to, White House press secretary Jay Carney said they back the defense secretary.
“I would certainly point you to what Secretary Hagel said and we certainly support his efforts in this area,” Carney said.
“I do think it continually should be reviewed,” Hagel said of the medical regulatory ban on transgender military service during a Sunday interview with ABC News’ Martha Raddatz. “I’m open to that, by the way.”
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.”
When asked if Obama supports eventually lifting the ban on transgender Americans serving in the military, Carney deflected back to Hagel’s remarks.
“I would simply, at this point, leave it to Secretary Hagel’s comments,” Carney said. “I haven’t spoken to him directly about this issue, but I would note what Secretary Hagel said and that we support him.”
Hagel’s remarks, as well as the White House’s affirmation today that they support Hagel’s efforts, illustrate a dramatic shift in tone by the Department of Defense on transgender military service.
“This issue has progressed more in seven days than previously imaginable,” Human Rights Campaign Vice President Fred Sainz said. “And I think the fact that it also appears that these are not off the cuff remarks made by Secretary Hagel — that clearly his thoughts, his plan is endorsed by the White House — that shows incredible momentum and strength for this issue and that is deeply, deeply meaningful.”
During a flight en route to Saudi Arabia earlier this week, Hagel expanded upon his remarks, stating that the Pentagon should continue to evaluate the ban.
“I’ve not asked for a specific task force. I’ve not asked for a specific study. I would want to hear more from individuals who are close to this issue, know this issue, who I would value their judgment and their direction on,” Hagel said. When such a review may take place, however, remains unclear. A Pentagon official confirmed to Metro Weekly that no such review has yet been ordered.
“If Secretary Hagel believes the policy should be reviewed and the President supports the Secretary in this, then when does the review begin?” asked Allyson Robinson, SPARTA policy director and a former Army Captain. “For the 15,000 transgender service members putting their lives on the line for us right now, it can’t happen too soon. SPARTA is looking forward to working with the Secretary to update these archaic policies that are hurting our troops and weakening our military.”