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U.S. military considers lifting ban on transgender service members

By Tomas Monzon
U.S. military considers lifting ban on transgender service members
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter says the Defense Department will create a group to analyze the impact that openly welcoming transgender persons to serve would have. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

WASHINGTON, July 14 (UPI) -- Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said the Army is working to update its policy on transgender service members.

Carter said Monday the Department of Defense's current policies toward transgender service members are outdated and potentially confusing for the estimated 15,500 transgender troops in active service.

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Troops with gender dysphoria are currently banned from all branches of the military, yet many continue to serve. Carter feels that this contradictory reality is hurting active transgender soldiers and distracting military commanders from core missions.

To that end, the Defense Department will create a group to analyze the impact that openly welcoming transgender persons to serve would have. The group would also develop ways to train soldiers so as to ensure a smooth transition if the ban is lifted. Additionally, all decisions regarding administrative discharges of transgender servicemen and women will be handled by Under Secretary Brad Carson.

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During this review period, transgender troops will be able to serve openly.

Senior brass have formerly been reluctant to changes of the transgender policy, saying the military has yet to adjust to the lifting of the ban on gay and lesbian troops and the integration of women into previously closed combat areas.

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However, chiefs of the Army, Air Force and Navy were briefed on Carter's plan and were not opposed to lifting the ban.

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Transgender advocates and military experts add that Carter's planned review is necessary in order to discuss concepts previously ignored when the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy was repealed in 2011, such as uniforms, medical care and the fact that some transgender soldiers take hormones or undergo surgery during transition.

Carter has shown disapproval of the transgender policy since assuming the role of defense secretary in early 2015. In February, he said that he was open-minded about who can serve in the military, provided they are able to render their service effectively.

Carter's position also reflects that of the Air Force, which in June announced a policy that put high-level Air Force officials in charge of approving discharges of dysphoric soldiers. Such a decision was previously handled by a psychologist, psychiatrist and unit commander who together decided if the soldier's transgender status disrupted his or her performance.

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Air Force Secretary Deborah James has also said that anyone fit to serve should do so independent of their gender.

President Barack Obama has also hinted at his support for the lifting of a ban on transgender troops.

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