Metro Weekly

Navy’s top sailor open to transgender military service

Mike Stevens - Credit: DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Blake Midnight, U.S. Navy

Mike Stevens – Credit: DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Blake Midnight, U.S. Navy

The Navy’s most senior enlisted sailor became the latest military leader to voice his openness to transgender Americans serving in the military.

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Mike Stevens said in an interview with Navy Times that transgender recruits should be allowed to serve openly if they meet Navy standards.

“So, I was a recruiter at one time. The Navy sets the guidelines for [who] we can allow to join the Navy,” Stevens said. “So if they’re physically, mentally and morally qualified, anybody who meets those criteria has an opportunity to serve their country.”

Stevens joins a number of Obama administration officials who have signaled support for lifting the military’s longstanding ban on transgender service. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has said all qualified Americans who are transgender should be allowed to serve in the military, a position the White House has said President Barack Obama supports. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James has said anyone who is capable of accomplishing the job should be able to serve and Carter’s chief of staff, Eric Fanning, who is openly gay, also supports open transgender service.

“My philosophy has always been this, that as a leader, I have a duty and responsibility to provide an opportunity where every sailor can be successful — and that we’re going to do that while treating one another with dignity and respect,” Stevens continued. “So, that’s it, I don’t pass judgment on any sailor and I don’t hold anything against sailors but what I do as a leader is set conditions and provide opportunity for them to be successful, plain and simple. As the master chief petty officer of the Navy, I see sailors.”

Despite those range of voices, no formal review of the military’s transgender ban has yet been ordered — a step that must come from the defense secretary. Unlike “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the military’s transgender ban is not a federal statute and the ability to lift it lies not with lawmakers on Capitol Hill, but leaders at the Pentagon. Nevertheless, the Army has made it more difficult to discharge transgender troops under a new policy announced last week. The authority needed to discharge a member of the Army who is transgender now sits solely with the assistant secretary of the Army — the highest level that authority has ever been reserved. Previously, lower-level Army officers could discharge servicemembers who are transgender.

“Once again, another senior leader in our nation’s Armed Forces has voiced their support for open and honest service by transgender service members – and it’s encouraging,” said Ashley Broadway-Mack, president of the American Military Partner Association, in a statement. “But we need more than words. We need action. We need the Secretary of Defense to order a comprehensive review of all of the outdated regulations that force the estimated 15,500 transgender service members in the Armed Forces to serve in silence. Until we get comprehensive action, our transgender service members and their families needlessly remain at risk.”

Justin Snow is Metro Weekly's former political editor and White House correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @JustinCSnow.