The United States' ban on transgender military members may soon come to an official end, as Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced Monday that the Pentagon would undertake a six-month study to determine whether there would be any major, objective problems with allowing trans service members.
Carter said the military's ban on transgender members was "outdated" and, significantly, that the department's six-month study would begin with the presumption that transgender individuals can serve without any adverse impact on effectiveness and readiness.
Carter also ordered any possible administrative discharges of transgender individuals before the study is complete to be handled by the head of personnel at the DOD, Under Secretary Brad Carson.
Carson will also lead the six-month study. Unnamed military officials told the Associated Press the study will examine what physical testing standards trans soldiers may be subject to, whether the military will pay for special medical treatment, what housing and uniforms would be necessary to accommodate transgender troops, and "whether their presence would affect the ability of small units to work well together." They also told the AP that the chiefs of the military branches did not express any opposition to lifting the ban.
"Over the last fourteen years of conflict, the Department of Defense has proven itself to be a learning organization," Carter said in a statement, likening the military's adaptability on the battlefield to its ability to change its rules domestically. "We have learned from how we repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," from our efforts to eliminate sexual assault in the military, and from our work to open up ground combat positions to women. Throughout this time, transgender men and women in uniform have been there with us, even as they often had to serve in silence alongside their fellow comrades in arms."
"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have transgender soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines — real, patriotic Americans — who I know are being hurt by an outdated, confusing, inconsistent approach that's contrary to our value of service and individual merit," Carter continued. "We must ensure that everyone who's able and willing to serve has the full and equal opportunity to do so, and we must treat all our people with the dignity and respect they deserve."
The military has been moving toward ending the transgender ban in the years since Don't Ask Don't Tell was repealed in 2011. In 2014, then-Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told ABC's The Week that the US military's ban on transgender soldiers "continually should be reviewed."
Groups aimed at ending the ban, including the Palm Center and SPARTA, a group made up of former soldiers who are trans, have pushed the DOD to review their policies.
Reports from the Palm Center and the Williams Institute at UCLA, a think tank that specializes in gender and sexuality issues in the military, estimated that there are more than 15,000 trans soldiers already serving in the nation's armed forces. The Palm Center found last year that it is "administratively feasible and neither excessively complex nor burdensome" to allow transgender members.
"Today's announcement is welcome news, not just for the 15,500 transgender personnel serving currently, but for all Americans," Palm Center director Aaron Belkin said in a statement. "The review process should proceed quickly, and should be informed by social science research and the lessons of 18 foreign militaries that have lifted their bans and found that inclusive policy is not difficult to formulate or implement."
Army veteran and SPARTA Director of Policy Allyson Robinson hailed Carter's announcement as "a tribute to the honorable military service of thousands of transgender Americans." She also pointed out that transgender individuals already serve alongside US troops in allied militaries and as DOD contractors, as well as in other institutions like police and fire departments.
"There is much more to do, but the Secretary's clear intent to treat transgender soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines with the same dignity and on equal footing with other service members aligns with the core values of our Armed Forces," Robinson said in a statement from the group. "We stand ready to provide resources to the Working Group for the regulations changes required to take care of all the troops."
"While some people don't understand, many of my fellow soldiers have been supportive," Army Captain Jennifer Peace, a transgender woman serving in a Stryker Brigade Combat Team, said in SPARTA's statement. "This change allows me to continue to do my job without the additional burden of pretending I'm someone I'm not. And that makes me a better officer and leader."
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