by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Transgender members of the U.S. military can now serve openly.
'I am announcing today that we are ending the ban on Transgender Americans in the United States military,' said Ash Carter, Secretary of Defense, in a news conference Thursday afternoon, June 30. 'Effective immediately, Transgender Americans can serve openly, and they no longer can be discharged or otherwise separated from the military just for being Transgender.'
Carter outlined three primary reasons why the Department of Defense (DOD) is lifting the ban, nearly a full year after the secretary announced the creation of a working group to study 'any practical impediments' to letting Transgender Americans serve in the armed forces as their authentic selves.? The first reason is to ensure the future of the nation's all-volunteer military force.
'The Department of Defense needs to avail ourselves of all talent possible, in order to remain what we are now: the finest fighting force the world has ever known,' he said. 'Our mission is to defend this country. And we don't want barriers unrelated to a person's qualification to serve preventing us from recruiting or retaining the soldier, sailor, airman, or marine who can best accomplish the mission. We have to have access to 100 percent of America's population for our all-volunteer force to be able to recruit from among them the most highly qualified, and to retain them.'
The second reason, Carter noted, was that Transgender Americans are 'already serving in uniform today.' He pointed to a study the Pentagon commissioned from the RAND Corp. that determined there are between 1,320 and 6,630 Transgender Americans currently serving in the armed forces, whether on active duty or in the reserves - out of an estimated 1.3 million servicemembers nationwide. Although Transgender troops are limited in number, Carter said, 'we are talking about talented and trained Americans who are serving their country with honor and distinction.'
Carter met with several active-duty Transgender troops over the past year, and heard one resounding message: 'They don't want special treatment,' he said. 'They want to be held to the same standards.'
He noted that the nation invests thousands of dollars in each trained service member - a number that increases as an individual moves up the ranks and becomes an even more valuable member of the force. Therefore, discharging or separating a qualified, trained service member simply because of their gender identity is harmful to the military's general readiness, Carter said.
'These are the kind of people we want serving in our military,' Carter added.
The final reason, Carter explained, is a matter of principle.
It is unfair, he said, to ask Transgender service members to lay down their lives in order to serve the country they love when they can't be their authentic selves. Similarly, it is inconsistent with the military's values prioritizing order and consistency to lack clear, comprehensive guidelines for commanders and medical personnel about how to respect and care for Transgender people in uniform.
No later than 90 days from today, the DOD will issue a guidebook for leaders of Transgender service members and issue medical guidance to doctors who will begin providing all medically necessary transition-related care to Transgender people currently serving. Under the old policy, Transgender troops had to seek transition-related care from non-military doctors, and pay for those expenses out-of-pocket.
Over the following nine months, commanders will begin training their troops about the new policy, in a similar fashion that military brass implemented the 2011 repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' the ban on open service by Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Americans.
Within a year, all branches of the U.S. military will also welcome new Transgender recruits. If a Transgender person wishes to enlist, they must have completed the medical treatment their doctor has determined to be appropriate (which differs for each individual), and 'must be stable' in their affirmed gender identity for no less than 18 months.
This standard is similar to the international guidelines endorsed by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, which generally suggests that a Transgender person live as their authentic gender for at least a year before they undergo specific gender-affirming surgeries or seek a legal name and gender change.
Carter said that currently serving troops seeking gender-affirming surgery would have access to it, and that it will be 'a decision they make with their physician.' Carter described the surgery as 'non-urgent medical care,' meaning Transgender troops could still be deployed by their commanders without having had gender confirmation surgery.
'We're not going to have any different medical policy for transgender service members than others,' he said, explaining that's how it works with cisgender (nontrans) troops now. 'Our doctors will treat them, give them medically necessary treatment according to the protocols that are determined by the medical profession,' Carter explained.
Carter also confirmed that gender identity would be added to the military equal opportunity policy, which acts like an antidiscrimination policy. He repeatedly affirmed that gender identity alone will no longer be a reason for an otherwise qualified American to be turned away from military service, or separated from active or reserve duty.
'Secretary Carter today fulfills his promise that every American who is qualified to serve will be allowed to serve, said former Army Capt. Sue Fulton, president of LGBT military advocacy group SPARTA. 'The thousands of transgender soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and Coast Guardsmen - and their commanders - have one less burden on their shoulders today. We are grateful to the military and civilian leaders in the Department of Defense who worked so hard to get this right.'
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