UPDATED: White House supports Defense secretary on trangender military service.
Department of Defense Secretary Ashton Carter addressed the issue of military service by transgender people — who are currently prohibited from serving openly — in a town hall in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
When asked about transgender service members serving in “austere environments” such as Afghanistan, Carter replied, in part, “And I don’t think anything but their suitability for service should preclude them.”
The question to Carter was posed from by a servicemember, who asked, “What are your thoughts on transgender service members serving in an austere environment like this here in Kandahar? Secretary Carter responded, “I come at that from a fundamental starting point. It’s not something I’ve studied a lot since I became secretary of defense. But I come at this kind of question from a fundamental starting point, which is that we want to make our conditions and experience of service as attractive as possible to our best people in our country. And I’m very open-minded about — otherwise about what their personal lives and proclivities are, provided they can do what we need them to do for us. That’s the important criteria. Are they going to be excellent service members? And I don’t think anything but their suitability for service should preclude them.”
On Feb. 23, the White House backed Carter’s statement. During the daily briefing, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said, “The president agrees with the sentiment that all Americans who are qualified to serve should be able to serve.”
LGBT civil rights advocates responded by encouraging Carter to work toward removing the prohibition against transgender people serving openly.
“We urge Secretary Carter to put action to his comments by ordering an immediate review of the outdated regulations that prevent transgender service members from serving our nation openly and honestly,” said David Stacy of the Human Rights Campaign. “As Secretary Carter pointed out, all that should matter is the ability to do the job. Our nation’s transgender service members bravely and heroically serve our nation, and they certainly deserve to be able to be honest about who they are.”
The Palm Center, a research institute based in San Francisco, released a statement referring to prior studies on the issue: “A recent Palm Center study by a former U.S. Surgeon General and retired General and Flag Officers addressed the issue of deployment in austere conditions explicitly and concluded that ‘there is no compelling rationale for banning transgender military service’ and that ‘With few exceptions, transgender service members are deployable and medically ready.’
“Another recent Palm Center study by a former US Army Surgeon General and retired General Officers concluded that, ‘formulating and implementing inclusive policy (for transgender personnel) is administratively feasible and neither excessively complex nor burdensome.’”
The American Military Partner Association, the nation’s largest organization of LGBT military families, also responded. “Secretary Carter is right in that their ability to serve is the only thing that should matter,” said AMPA president Ashley Broadway-Mack. “Thousands of transgender service members ARE currently doing the job, and doing it well, but are forced to do so in silence — forced to lie about something as fundamental as who they are in order to continue to serve. While we applaud Secretary Carter for being ‘open-minded’ on this issue, we urge him to take action that will lead to ending this ban that continues to harm our transgender service members and their families.”