In a the latest sign of shifting attitudes toward LGBT people in the US military, the Pentagon said Thursday it is lifting the ban on openly transgender service members, effective immediately.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter said in a statement that US service members would be able to serve openly and could not be discharged simply on the basis of their gender identity.
"The Defense Department and the military need to avail ourselves of all talent possible in order to remain what we are now — the finest fighting force the world has ever known," Carter said Thursday from the Pentagon. "Americans who want to serve and meet our standards should be afforded the opportunity to compete."
The change reflects broader shifts concerning the roles of gay, lesbian, and female service members in the military in recent years. Gay and lesbian people have only been allowed to serve openly in the military since the 2010 repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, the Clinton-era legislation that required service members to remain closeted about their sexuality. Until today, the ban on trans people remained one of the last barriers to service in the military, and LGBT groups have long pressured the Pentagon to change that.
Carter said that the military should "review" the transgender ban in 2014, but it took two more years to enact the change. On Thursday, he said it had been a "educational process for a lot of people in the department, including me," but lifting the ban was now a "matter of principle."
Despite increased public acceptance toward transgender individuals, not everyone was pleased with the Pentagon's announcement. The Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Republican Mac Thornberry, said in a statement that the DOD was "prioritizing politics over policy" and said that allowing transgender people to serve still brought up "readiness challenges…such as the extent to which such individuals would be medically non-deployable."
An estimated 150,000 trans people have served in the military or are currently on active duty, according to research from the Williams Institute at the University of California Los Angeles. The data also shows that transgender individuals are far more likely than the general population to serve in the military.
Currently, 18 other countries, including US allies like Canada, Australia, the UK, and Germany, allow trans people to openly serve.