Transgender Service Members Can Now Serve Openly, Carter Announces
Transgender service members in the U.S. military can now openly serve their country without fear of retribution, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced today, a policy decision that overturns the ban on transgender service across all branches of service, effective immediately.
Following a study at his direction, the secretary said during a Pentagon news conference, three main reasons led to the decision to lift the transgender ban: the force of the future, the existing force and matters of principle.
Ban Lifted Immediately
“As a result of the yearlong study, I’m announcing today that we are ending the ban on transgender Americans in the United States military. Effective immediately, transgender Americans may serve openly, and they can no longer be discharged or otherwise separated from the military just for being transgender,” Carter said.
Further, he said, he has directed that the gender identity of an otherwise qualified individual will not bar him or her from military service or from any accession program.
Force of the Future Needs Best Talent
“[We in] the Defense Department and the military need to avail ourselves of all talent possible … to remain what we are now – the finest fighting force the world has ever known,” Carter said.
“Our mission is to defend this country,” he added, “and we don’t want barriers unrelated to a person’s qualifications to serve preventing us from recruiting or retaining the soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine who can best accomplish the mission.”
The Defense Department must have access to 100 percent of America’s population for its all-volunteer force to be able to recruit from among the most highly qualified, and to retain them, the secretary told reporters.
Because an estimated 7,000 active and reserve transgender service members on the upper end now wear a military uniform, “I have a responsibility to them and their commanders to provide them both with clearer and more consistent guidance than is provided by current policies,” Carter emphasized.
Minimal Readiness Impact
Based on the working group’s analysis of 18 allied militaries including those of the United Kingdom, Australia and Israel and the expected rate at which American transgender service members would require medical treatment that would affect their fitness for duty and deployability, a Rand Corp. analysis concluded that there would be minimal readiness impacts from allowing transgender service members to serve openly, the secretary said.
And while transgender numbers are small, they serve the country with honor and distinction, Carter said, noting that DoD invests hundreds of thousands of dollars to train and develop each individual. “And we want to take the opportunity to retain people whose talents we’ve invested in and who have proven themselves,” he added.
Until today’s change in policy, transgender service members had to seek out-of-pocket medical care from private doctors who deemed whether certain procedures were necessary.
“This is inconsistent with our promise to all our troops that we will take care of them and pay for necessary medical treatment,” the secretary said, adding that Rand found health care costs would represent “an exceedingly small proportion” of DoD’s overall health care expenditures.
Civilian federal employees have access to a health insurance plan that provides comprehensive coverage for transgender-related care and medical treatment, he noted.
Matters of Principle
The secretary said he and senior DoD leaders met in the past year with transgender service members who have deployed all over the world, serving on aircraft, submarines, forward operating bases and in the Pentagon.
The yearlong study was carefully examined for medical, legal and policy considerations that have been rapidly evolving in recent years and in light of DoD’s unique nature of military readiness “to make sure the department got it right,” Carter said.
After talking with doctors, employers and insurance companies, he said, it became clear that “transgender” is becoming common and normalized in public and private sectors, and he noted a “sea change” in the past decade.
Future Policy Phases
The new policies related to lifting the transgender ban will take place over the next 12 months, beginning with immediate guidance for service members and commanders, the secretary said. Next will follow training the entire force, and DoD will then start accessing new military service members who are transgender.
In no more than 90 days, DoD will issue a commanders’ guidebook for leading existing transgender service members, and guidance will be issued to military doctors to provide transition-related care if required for existing transgender troops, the secretary said.
By ending the ban on transgender service members, “we’re eliminating policies that can result in transgender service members being treated differently from their peers based solely upon their gender identity, rather than their ability to serve,” Carter said. “And we’re confirming that going forward we will apply the same general principles, standards, and procedures to transgender service members as we do to all service members.”
Deliberate and thoughtful implementation will be key, he added, and DoD’s senior leaders will ensure all issues identified in the study are addressed in implementation.
“I'm 100 percent confident in the ability of our military leaders and all men and women in uniform to implement changes in a manner that both protects the readiness of the force and also upholds values cherished by the military -- honor, trust and judging every individual on their merits,” Carter said.
Good people are integral to the best military in the world, the secretary said, adding that he’s “we have reason to be proud today of what this will mean for our military -- because it is the right thing to do, and it's another step in ensuring that we continue to recruit and retain the most qualified people.”
(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)