Written By: Kristina Wong 13/7/15
The Pentagon is finalizing plans to lift a ban on transgender troops, senior U.S. officials told The Associated Press.
An announcement is expected this week, and the military services would have six months to assess the impact of the change, the officials told the AP on Monday.
During those six months, transgender individuals would not be able to join the military, but decisions to force those already serving out would be referred to the Pentagon’s acting undersecretary for personnel, officials said.
One senior official told the AP that the goal was to avoid forcing any transgender service member to leave during that time.
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s personnel under secretary, Brad Carson, will set up a working group of senior military and civilian leaders to look at the issue, the officials said.
The working group would look at the practical efforts, the costs and what impact lifting the ban would have on military readiness.
Transgender troops are currently banned from the military, but surveys have estimated that as many as 15,000 transgender troops serve in the active duty military and reserves, often in secret.
The Pentagon lifted a ban on gays serving openly in the military in 2011.
Groups advocating for transgender troops urged the Pentagon to follow through and lift the ban.
“The Pentagon’s rickety system of discrimination against us is falling part,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. “It is in everyone’s interest that the 15,000 or so currently serving trans people be allowed serve openly and honorably.”
Carter first signaled an openness to transgender troops in February, saying sexual identity shouldn’t keep anyone out of the armed services.
“I don’t think anything but their suitability for service should preclude them,” Carter said during a town-hall event in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
During a June 9 Pentagon Pride Month event, Carter announced that the Pentagon would include sexual orientation in its anti-discrimination policies, along with race, religion, color, sex, age and national origin.
“We believe in getting to a place where no one serves in silence, and where we treat all our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines with the dignity, and the respect, that they deserve,” he said.
“Embracing diversity and inclusion is critical to recruiting and retaining the force of the future.”
Momentum has also been building on Capitol Hill to lift the ban, with Democrats pressing Carter for action.
Rep. Adam Smith (Wash.), the House Armed Services Committee’s top Democrat, applauded the Defense secretary’s decision to establish a working group.
“The brave men and women who serve in our military should not be excluded from the rights and freedoms that they risk their lives to protect. It’s that simple,” he said.
He said “incorporating the presumption” that transgender individuals can serve openly, without adverse impact on the military’s effectiveness and readiness, “is a step in the right direction.”