Military chiefs plan to ask Defense Secretary Jim Mattis for a six-month delay before they allow transgender people to enlist in their services, reports The Associated Press.
Leaders of each of the service branches met earlier this week and rejected requests by the Army and Air Force for a two-year waiting period over concern that a longer delay would bring them under fire from Congress, particularly Democrats who support the policy change.
Last year, former Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced that currently active transgender service members would be allowed to serve openly, and began implementing a year-long process of preparing the services to allow out transgender recruits. Under that proposed plan, transgender people would be allowed to join so long as they meet physical, medical and other standards and have been stable in their identified gender for at least 18 months.
But the military chiefs argue that they need more time to study the issue and see how the presence of transgender service members will affect military readiness. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the AP that the extra time would allow them to gauge whether currently service transgender members are facing problems and if military bases may have to make special accommodations.
The chiefs will also be asking to increase the time that new recruits must have been stable in their gender to at least two years. They also want to review the policy after a year to see how it’s being implemented. Their primary concerns center around whether transgender service members have medical or other issues that could affect or delay their ability to deploy or meet the current enlistment standards.
The officials say that three of the four services wanted more time to study the issue. The Navy suggested it was ready to begin accepting out transgender recruits, but asked for more time in order to accommodate the Marine Corps, which is overseen by the Secretary of the Navy and had asked for a year-long delay in implementing the new enlistment policy.
There is no word yet on when Mattis will make a final decision regarding the proposed delay.
The Palm Center, which advocates for open military service, released a statement criticizing the military chiefs’ request for a delay.
“Transgender troops have been serving openly and effectively for a year, as predicted by all of the research showing that inclusive policy for LGBT troops promotes readiness,” Aaron Belkin, the director of the Palm Center, said in a statement. “A six-month delay of the last piece of inclusive policy, the repeal of the enlistment ban, will only produce redundant evidence about the contributions of transgender service members. Indeed, the Chiefs who are demanding ongoing delay are not bringing any new arguments or new data to the table, but are recycling long-discredited concerns whose only basis is emotion and politics, not data.”
Belkin also noted that 18 foreign militaries, including U.S. allies Israel, Great Britain, Australia, and Canada, allow transgender people to serve openly, without any of the detriments that critics of the policy say will arise if the United States military follows suit.
“It is particularly remarkable, as the Army spends an additional $300 million to recruit 6,000 soldiers this year, that it would seek to turn away Americans who are fit and eager to serve,” Belkin added. “Forcing transgender applicants to lie to get into the military is ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ all over again. General Neller, General Milley and the Pentagon’s civilian leadership have a responsibility to their troops not to lead us back to that sad era.”
The American Military Partner Association, which advocates on behalf of LGBTQ service members, released its own statement reacting to the military chiefs’ request.
“Secretary Mattis has made clear he believes there is a need to increase troop levels, so this proposed delay is disappointing because it’s such an incredibly important recruitment change,” AMPA President Ashley Broadway-Mack said in a statement. “Any qualified American who is willing and able to serve should have the opportunity to join the ranks, regardless of their gender identity. We urge Secretary Mattis to reject further delays and move quickly in implementing this important recruitment policy.”
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