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The Pentagon will explore lifting the ban on open transgender military service, Defense Secretary Ash Carter has announced.
Calling current regulations “outdated” and a source of “uncertainty that distracts commanders from our core missions,” Carter stated that the Department of Defense will “create a working group to study over the next six months the policy and readiness implications of welcoming transgender persons to serve openly.”
“Our troops have learned from experience that the most important qualification for service members should be whether they’re able and willing to do their job,” Carter said in a statement. “Our officers and enlisted personnel are faced with certain rules that tell them the opposite. Moreover, 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have transgender soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines – real, patriotic Americans – who I know are being hurt by an outdated, confusing, inconsistent approach that’s contrary to our value of service and individual merit.”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 is issuing two directives to cover the Pentagon’s approach to exploring removing the ban on transgender service. The first covers the aforementioned study, which will be led by Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Brad Carson. It will comprise military and civilian personnel and ” start with the presumption that transgender persons can serve openly without adverse impact on military effectiveness and readiness.”
The second — and perhaps most important for the interim — directive will transfer the power to discharge a transgender servicemember to Carson. He will “make determinations on all potential separations” in cases where servicemembers are diagnosed with gender dysphoria or openly declare themselves to be transgender.
Carter’s announcement comes in the wake of growing support for openly transgender service. Last year, the White House signaled their support for ending the ban, while last month the American Medical Association said there was “no medically valid reason to exclude transgender individuals from service.”
Carter himself expressed support for examining open transgender service when he assumed his role as Secretary of Defense earlier this year. “It’s not something I’ve studied a lot since I became secretary of defense,” he said in February. “But I come at this kind of question from a fundamental starting point…. Are they going to be excellent service members? And I don’t think anything but their suitability for service should preclude them.”
Chad Griffin, president of HRC, welcomed Carter’s announcement.
“We welcome and applaud the announcement by Secretary Carter that the military will at last conduct a comprehensive review of the outdated ban that has for far too long discriminated against qualified transgender Americans who simply want to serve their country,” he said in a statement. “The time for ending the military’s ban on transgender service is long overdue, and 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, and their sense of patriotism and duty is no less than any other service member’s.”
While there’s no certainty that the military will open its doors to transgender service, given any predicted backlash to ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell failed to materialize, it seems a likelihood.
“As I’ve said before, we must ensure that everyone who’s able and willing to serve has the full and equal opportunity to do so,” Carter added in his statement. “And we must treat all our people with the dignity and respect they deserve. Going forward, the Department of Defense must and will continue to improve how we do both. Our military’s future strength depends on it.”
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