Metro Weekly

Pentagon delays transgender enlistment deadline by 6 months

Service chiefs cite concerns over "readiness," but LGBTQ groups say the military could accept trans recruits now

The Pentagon. Photo: Department of Defense – Photo: Master Sgt. Ken Hammond, U.S. Air Force, via Wikimedia.

On Friday, the Pentagon announced it will delay allowing openly transgender individuals to enlist until at least Jan. 1, 2018.

In a memo to the secretaries of the various military branches and to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis cited the importance of military readiness and the need for more time as previously requested by the secretaries of the various services.

According to an Associated Press report two weeks ago, the Navy had previously said it was ready to begin accepting new transgender recruits, but asked for more time in order to accommodate a request from military leadership in the Marine Corps, which the Secretary of the Navy oversees. The Marine Corps had requested a year-long delay, and the Army and Air Force had wanted two years before they must accept new transgender recruits.

“Under existing DoD policy, such accessions were anticipated to begin on July 1, 2017,” Mattis said in the memo. “The Deputy Secretary directed the services to begin assessing their readiness to begin accessions. Building upon that work and after consulting with the Service Chiefs and Secretaries, I have determined that it is necessary to defer the start of accessions for six months. We will use this additional time to evaluate more carefully the impact of such accessions on readiness and lethality.”

Mattis also directed the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to lead the review of concerns around and the logistics involved with accepting transgender recruits, and report the results of said review to him by Dec. 1, 2017.

Chief among the military chiefs’ concerns were questions over the assimilation of transgender recruits into units, whether transgender recruits’ medical issues could affect their ability to deploy or meet current enlistment standards, and if military bases would have to make special accommodations for those recruits with respect to showers, bathrooms and other facilities.

The chiefs also wish to prolong the time that new recruits have been stable in their gender from 18 months to 2 years.

The six-month delay will only impact new recruits, not the estimated 15,500 transgender service members currently serving, reports Politico.

Last week, U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), an LGBTQ rights opponent whose congressional district includes Army installation Ft. Leonard Wood, attempted to introduce an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would have reversed the policy allowing any transgender troops to serve openly. 

Although she later withdrew the amendment — while reserving the right to bring it up again when the NDAA gets debated by the full House — Hartzler said in a statement that she was “pleased” that Mattis had decided to delay the implementation of the policy, which she called “ill-conceived” and “rushed,” saying it was “never clearly thought out.”

LGBTQ groups lamented the delay, with OutServe-Service Members Legal Defense Network saying it expects the military to begin accepting new transgender recruits as soon as the six-month wait period is over.

“Transgender service members have been serving, openly and authentically, since October 2016 with no impact on readiness,” OutServe-SLDN Executive Director Matt Thorn said in a statement. “It is time to fully lift the ban on transgender service by enacting this final piece and implementing the accessions policy. This delay is a disservice to the transgender community and to our military as a whole.

“We reiterate that the services are prepared for transgender individuals and assert that delays beyond January 2018 will have a negative impact on military readiness — that we cannot tolerate.”

“This six-month delay is deeply disappointing because it unnecessarily delays the ability of transgender people to be open about their identity when entering the military,” Ashley Broadway-Mack, the president of the American Military Partner Association, said in a statement. “It has been unequivocally proven that allowing qualified transgender people to serve openly strengthens our military and creates a more inclusive and diverse force. The issue has been thoroughly studied and moving forward with this new recruitment policy is imperative in order for the military to be able to recruit the best talent our nation has to offer.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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