According to Defense News, the decision by Secretary of the Army John McHugh to announce his retirement on Monday could pave the way for Eric Fanning, currently chief of staff to U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, to become the first openly gay secretary of a branch of the military.
Although a Pentagon spokesman denied that any selection has been made, sources told Defense News that Fanning is the presumptive favorite for the post. McHugh has said he will stay on until November to allow for a smooth transition for his successor. McHugh, a former congressman from upstate New York, was appointed to the position by President Obama in 2009.
Fanning served as deputy undersecretary and deputy chief management officer of the Navy from 2009 to 2013. He was nominated by President Obama in 2012 and confirmed in 2013 as undersecretary of the Air Force, and temporarily assumed the position of acting secretary of the Air Force while current Secretary Deborah Lee James was waiting to be confirmed by the Senate.
Most notably, Fanning has expressed support for allowing transgender individuals to serve openly in the military. Although White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest declined to comment on whether transgender servicemembers should serve openly at a press conference last Thursday, both the Army and the Air Force have made moves that have been hailed as a step towards “easing” the ban on transgender individuals, referring any decisions about whether to dismiss individuals who identify as transgender to senior officials, rather than leaving the decisions up to local unit commanders. Those advocating for open service also received a boost this week when the American Medical Association (AMA) on Monday approved a resolution stating that there is “no medically valid reason to exclude transgender individuals from service in the U.S. military” and that the organization “affirm[s] transgender service members be provided care as determine by patient and physician according to the same medical standards that apply to non-transgender personnel.”