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At least eight transgender people have filled out the paperwork to become part of the U.S. Air Force since the Pentagon issued guidance earlier this year outlining how to accommodate transgender recruits, reports USA Today.
Capt. Kathleen Atanasoff, a spokeswoman for the Air Force, noted that many more transgender individuals could have spoken to the Air Force since that time, but have just not filled out the appropriate paperwork.
“It’s important to recognize that the eight includes applicants who filled out some kind of paperwork at their respective recruiting stations,” Atanasoff said, “not necessarily all transgender applicants who have called or walked into recruiting stations, or inquired about joining the service.”
USA Today has not reported similar numbers of transgender applicants for the other service branches. The National Center for Lesbian Rights estimates that dozens of transgender people have at least inquired about enlisting in the Armed Forces since the prohibition on new recruits was lifted on Jan. 1.
Brad Carson, the former Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, oversaw the planning and execution of the Obama administration’s efforts to repeal the transgender military ban. Carson said graduates from military academies “have the fastest, clearest route to joining the military.”
“I would think that the academy graduates, who have been through four years of taxpayer-funded training and met every requirement, should be able to be processed almost instantly,” Carson told USA Today.
Yet even though transgender recruits who have graduated from military academies have an easier path to enlistment, officials note that they still must meet Pentagon guidelines, including a requirement that they demonstrate they have been “stable in their preferred gender” for 18 months before being qualified to serve.
“They’ve graduated from a service academy and administratively fulfilled the requirement to become a commissioned officer, however, now that the policy has changed, it’s on them to attempt to qualify for service under the new standards,” Army Maj. Dave Eastburn, a Pentagon spokesman, said.
Under the Obama administration, former Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter lifted the ban on already-serving transgender military members, lessening their fears of forcible discharge. But Carter also gave the various service branches a year, until July 1, 2017, to study and prepare themselves for how they would accommodate new recruits. That deadline was later pushed to Jan. 1 at the order of Trump’s Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis.
In July, President Trump announced on Twitter that he would institute a ban on transgender military service “in any capacity.” However, late last year, federal courts blocked the ban from taking place, stating that the Pentagon would have to accept transgender applicants by the beginning of 2018.
The Trump administration subsequently tried to ask for a delay of the Jan. 1 deadline, claiming that the military was unequipped to deal with any transgender recruits. But courts didn’t buy the administration’s argument, citing the previous guidance by the Obama administration to give the service branches significant time to work out their solutions for accommodating the new recruits.
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