After initial reports were leaked to the press on Monday, the Pentagon confirmed its plans to lift the ban on transgender military service over the next six months.
Announcing the plan, Secretary Defense Ash Carter explained, “current regulations regarding transgender service members are outdated and are causing uncertainty that distracts commanders from our core missions.” He acknowledged that even despite the ban, “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have transgender soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines – real, patriotic Americans – who I know are being hurt by an outdated, confusing, inconsistent approach that’s contrary to our value of service and individual merit.”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 issued two directives toward lifting the ban. The first was to create a working group that will study and develop policy and readiness implications that allow transgender people to serve openly. Though the ban on enlisting will remain during that time, Carter’s other directive will elevate the decision authority for discharges under the policy to Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Brad Carson, allowing the military to handle them on a case-by-case basis and perhaps avoid or at least delay the discharge of currently serving transgender troops.
Conservative groups have already begun decrying the plan. The Family Research Council complained that lifting the ban was somehow not associated with military readiness, claiming that “no new science” has contributed to the decision to lift the ban, even though the ban is, by all accounts, incredibly outdated compared to psychiatric standards.
But pro-LGBT groups celebrated the long-overdue announcement. The National Center for Transgender Equality’s Mara Keisling called it “a positive sign” that the Department of Defense understands “open trans military service is desirable and inevitable.” OutServe-SLDN’s Matt Thorn applauded the report, but cautioned, “We still must educate and inform our military leaders during their six month working group on ensuring that the right foundation is placed for our transgender service members.”
Calling the adjustments “necessary,” the LGBT military group SPART*A published an 11-page FAQ addressing multiple concerns the military might face implementing transgender service.
Unlike “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which was a law passed by Congress, the trans military ban is a military policy, which the Defense Department can change on its own. Carter had previously expressed support for lifting the ban, and his predecessor Chuck Hagel had similarly called for its review. The American Medical Association adopted a resolution last month calling for the end to the ban.