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New secretary of defense: transgender soldiers should be able to serve openly in military

The new defense secretary, Ash Carter.
The new defense secretary, Ash Carter.
Pool/Getty Images
  1. Newly confirmed Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Sunday suggested transgender people should be allowed to openly serve in the military.
  2. "I don't think anything but their suitability for service should preclude them," Carter said.
  3. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest echoed the remarks in a press briefing on Monday: "The president agrees with the sentiment that all Americans who are qualified to serve should be able to serve. And for that reason, we here at the White House welcome the comments from the secretary of defense."
  4. It's unclear whether the military is actually reviewing or revising its ban on open trans soldiers. Last year, former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said he's open to reviewing the policy. But there's been little public movement toward a review.

The US military still prohibits trans soldiers from serving openly

The US military still allows the discharge of openly serving transgender soldiers. As a March 2014 report from the Palm Center explained, the ban allows commanders to dismiss transgender individuals from the military without a medical review, regardless of the soldier's ability to serve. As a result, transgender soldiers are forced to hide their true identities if they want to remain in the military.

The policy potentially affects thousands of people: the Palm Center estimated that there are 15,450 transgender personnel in the US military.

The ban, as with other forms of discrimination against transgender people, is based on incorrect and outdated medical rationale. Many medical experts prior to the 1990s viewed transgender people as having an untreatable mental health condition. But most medical experts today, including the American Psychiatric Association, agree that hormone therapy and other forms of care can treat transgender people suffering from gender dysphoria, or significant distress caused by the gender assigned at birth.

The Obama administration could overturn the prohibition on trans soldiers without congressional consent, since the ban is attached to regulations, not law. But the Obama administration hasn't publicly presented a plan or order that would actually end the ban.

Hat tip to BuzzFeed for reporting the Obama administration's comments.