New SecDef open towards transgender troops

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter speaks on board his plane en route to Afghanistan Friday, Feb. 20, 2015. Carter made his international debut Saturday with a visit to Afghanistan to see American troops and commanders, meet with Afghan leaders and assess whether U.S. withdrawal plans are too risky to Afghan security. (AP Photo/Jonathan Ernst, Pool)

Newly sworn in Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has stated the military will begin to ease up on the policy on transgender soldiers, making it harder to kick them out.

“I don’t think anything but their suitability for service should preclude them,” Carter said Sunday during a question-and-answer session with troops in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

According to a report in the Washington Post, Carter has not studied the military’s ban on transgender service members, but said “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?”

Carter, although more direct than others, is not the only military official who believes the transgender ban needs to be reconsidered. Two months ago, Air Force Secretary Deborah James said the ban on transgender troops should be lifted. There are more than 15,000 transgender men and women who serve in the military and LGBT advocates are using these comments to push the Obama administration to loosen the ban on transgender service members, which remained in place even after “don’t ask, don’t tell” was lifted in 2011.

“Secretary Carter is right – being transgender should not exclude anyone from serving in America’s military,” Allyson Robinson, a former Army captain and director of policy for SPARTA, a group that advocates for transgender troops, said in a statement. “Transgender Americans are serving today with honor and distinction, but must serve in silence and forgo medically necessary care to do so. There is no reason for this to continue. Secretary Carter must lead the way by ordering a top-down, department level review of the regulations.”

USA TODAY also reported an outlined plan, known as an All Army Activities directive, which would leave the decision to discharge transgender soldiers from the Army would be made by a top, senior civilian official. The memorandum says, the decision to discharge transgender soldiers would be made by the assistant secretary of the Army for personnel, instead of being made by lower-level Army officers.

“Assigning responsibility for discharge decisions to a senior official would be a welcome step toward inclusive policy, but transgender troops will still have to serve in silence until more is done to dismantle the ban,” said Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, which has published research on sexual orientation issues in the military.

The Army had no comment about the memo or the level at which decisions on dismissing transgender soldiers had been made, but senior defense department officials confirmed the Army is considering the change. If a broader reinterpretation of the Army’s rules about transgender soldiers is issued, the new directive would expire after 12 months, or sooner.

“Hopefully this is a signal that the Army — and other service branches — will finally begin a comprehensive review of the regulations regarding transgender servicemembers, which everyone agrees is long overdue,” said Joshua Block, who leads the American Civil Liberties Union Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project. “I also hope the 12-month time frame is an indication that the Army understands the urgency of this issue for transgender servicemembers and their commanders.”

This is the latest move in the change toward transgender troops. Last week, for the first time, the Army agreed to allow hormone treatment for Chelsea Manning, a transgender soldier. Manning, previously known as Bradley, is serving a 35-year sentence at the Fort Leavenworth, Kan., military prison for divulging national secrets to WikiLeaks.




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