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Pentagon announces plan to lift ban against transgender servicemembers

The Pentagon's current regulations banning transgender individuals from serving in the military are outdated, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on July 13, ordering a six-month study aimed at lifting the ban.

Carter said he is creating a working group that will review the policies and determine if lifting the ban would have any impact on the military's ability to be ready for battle. But he said the group will begin with the presumption that transgender people should be able to serve openly "without adverse impact on military effectiveness and readiness, unless and except where objective, practical impediments are identified."

The plan, which was first reported by The Associated Press, gives the services time to methodically work through the legal, medical and administrative issues and develop training to ease any transition, and senior leaders believed six months would be sufficient.

"The Defense Department's current regulations regarding transgender service members are outdated and are causing uncertainty that distracts commanders from our core missions," Carter said in a statement released on July 13. "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."

Carter asked his personnel undersecretary, Brad Carson, to lead the working group of senior military and civilian leaders to take an objective look at the issue, including the costs, and determine whether it would create any insurmountable problems that could derail the plan. The group would also develop uniform guidelines.

Some of the key issues involved in the repeal of the ban include whether the military would conduct or pay for the medical costs of surgeries and other treatment associated with any gender transition, as well as which physical training or testing standards transgender individuals would be required to meet during different stages of their transition.

Officials said the military also wants time to tackle questions about where transgender troops would be housed, what uniforms they would wear, what berthing they would have on ships, which bathrooms they would use and whether their presence would affect the ability of small units to work well together. The military has dealt with many similar questions as it integrated the ranks by race, gender and sexual orientation.

"Obviously this isn't finished, but Secretary Carter's clear statement of intent means that transgender service members should and will be treated with the same dignity as other service members," said Allyson Robinson, Army veteran and policy director for an association of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender military personnel called Service Members, Partners and Allies for Respect and Tolerance for All, or SPARTA.

Several Congress members, including Rep. Adam Smith, ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, expressed support for Carter's decision.

The move follows several weeks of high-level meetings in the Pentagon among military chiefs, secretaries and Defense Department leaders, including one Monday involving Carter and the chiefs of the various services.

Joshua Block, senior staff attorney in the ACLU’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and HIV Project, said, “Trans people are willing and able to serve their country, and should be able to do so while remaining true to who they are. The Pentagon announcement confirms what we have known for a long time: outdated military regulations, which automatically label trans service members as medically unfit for duty, have no basis in reality. Over the past year, service branches have allowed some individuals to serve openly without risking immediate separation, but the regulations on the books keep those service members and their commanders in a constant state of administrative limbo. Everyone has been waiting for senior officials to provide clear leadership on this issue.  It sounds like that leadership is coming – and not a moment too soon.”

"We welcome and applaud the announcement by Secretary Carter that the military will at last conduct a comprehensive review of the outdated ban that has for far too long discriminated against qualified transgender Americans who simply want to serve their country," said HRC president Chad Griffin. "The time for ending the military's ban on transgender service is long overdue, and we are confident that the Pentagon's review of this discriminatory policy will find what many have come to know is true: Transgender Americans have every right to serve their country openly and honestly, and their sense of patriotism and duty is no less than any other service member's. Our military and our country will be stronger when this archaic policy is finally discarded and we look forward to that day."

There are approximately 15,500 actively serving transgender members of the U.S. military, making the Department of Defense, the largest employer of transgender people in America. 

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