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Pentagon to repeal military’s ban on transgender troops

US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter.
US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
  1. The Pentagon is working to end its ban on openly serving transgender soldiers, the Pentagon announced on Monday.
  2. The details will be worked out over the next six months. The military will gauge whether to conduct or pay for medical treatments such as hormone therapy and gender-affirming surgeries, where trans troops would be housed, what uniforms they would wear, which bathrooms they would use, and other details, according to the Associated Press.
  3. The Pentagon also put its undersecretary for personnel and readiness in charge of dismissal decisions, with the hope of eliminating or limiting how many trans soldiers are discharged under existing medical regulations.
  4. The announcement comes after the Air Force and Army eased their bans on trans soldiers, who identify with a gender different from the one assigned at birth.

Read Defense Secretary Ashton Carter's full statement

Here is the statement from Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, which officially announced the change:

Over the last fourteen years of conflict, the Department of Defense has proven itself to be a learning organization. This is true in war, where we have adapted to counterinsurgency, unmanned systems, and new battlefield requirements such as MRAPs. It is also true with respect to institutional activities, where we have learned from how we repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," from our efforts to eliminate sexual assault in the military, and from our work to open up ground combat positions to women.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.

The Defense Department's current regulations regarding transgender service members are outdated and are causing uncertainty that distracts commanders from our core missions. At a time when our troops have learned from experience that the most important qualification for service members should be whether they're able and willing to do their job, our officers and enlisted personnel are faced with certain rules that tell them the opposite. Moreover, 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have transgender soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines — real, patriotic Americans — who I know are being hurt by an outdated, confusing, inconsistent approach that's contrary to our value of service and individual merit.

Today, I am issuing two directives to deal with this matter. First, DoD will create a working group to study over the next six months the policy and readiness implications of welcoming transgender persons to serve openly. Led by (Acting) Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Brad Carson, and composed of military and civilian personnel representing all the military services and the Joint Staff, this working group will report to Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work. At my direction, the working group will start with the presumption that transgender persons can serve openly without adverse impact on military effectiveness and readiness, unless and except where objective, practical impediments are identified. Second, I am directing that decision authority in all administrative discharges for those diagnosed with gender dysphoria or who identify themselves as transgender be elevated to Under Secretary Carson, who will make determinations on all potential separations.

As I've said before, 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. Going forward, the Department of Defense must and will continue to improve how we do both. Our military's future strength depends on it.

The ban on trans service is based on incorrect and outdated medical rationale

As a March 2014 report from the Palm Center explained, the military's ban allows commanders to dismiss trans individuals from the military without a medical review, regardless of the service member's ability to serve. As a result, trans people are forced to hide their true identities if they want to remain in the military.

The Pentagon's change would undo this ban. But it's unclear how, exactly, trans troops will be treated in the different armed service branches, and the Pentagon expects a working group to nail down the details in the six months after the announcement.

The ban on trans service members, as with other forms of discrimination against trans people, is based on incorrect and outdated medical rationale. The concern is that a person's gender dysphoria, a state of emotional distress caused by how the gender someone was designated at birth conflicts with their gender identity, could interfere with someone's ability to serve, since it can lead to severe depression and anxiety.

But most medical experts today, including the American Psychiatric Association and American Medical Association, agree that hormone therapy and other forms of trans-inclusive care can treat those suffering from gender dysphoria. And not all trans people suffer from severe gender dysphoria in the first place.

The Obama administration has been hinting for months at the ban's lift, which only requires a change from the administration, not Congress, since it's attached to regulations, not law. The White House and Defense Secretary Carter said in February that they're open to undoing the ban.

Watch: Life as a transgender woman