Today, in an historic moment in the movement toward transgender equality, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced the lifting of the ban on transgender service members in the United States Armed Forces. This momentous decision comes a year after the Department of Defense began studying the issue, determining that the former exclusions were outdated, unscientific, and contrary to the success of openly serving transgender soldiers, sailors, and air force personnel in militaries from other countries.
“Allowing anyone who is willing and able to serve to do so without lying about who they are is a sound policy that reflects American values,” National Center for Transgender Equality Executive Director Mara Keisling said. “Like other institutions, including allied militaries, the Defense Department has found straightforward answers for all the questions that have come up. This is the right decision for the military and brings much needed certainty for thousands of currently serving soldiers who have put their lives on the line for their country, as well as for their units.”
The Department of Defense working group assigned to study the issue evaluated the success of transgender service members in allied militaries and among major employers in the United States and around the world. Initially given six months to conduct the study, the Pentagon extended the time to ensure the decision would not adversely impact military readiness. The Department of Defense will allow the armed services time to develop policies and education plans for their respective service members. Following that, transgender people will be able to serve openly in the military, enjoying the benefits of any other service member including access to medical care based on individual needs and subject to the same rules applied to other medical and personnel issues.
Though the announcement is a momentous victory, NCTE expresses concern about one aspect of the new policy: the eighteen month delay for individuals to join the military after a gender transition. Eighteen months is much longer than delays associated with other comparable medical treatments.
“This is a lingering piece of transgender exceptionalism that we expect will change as the military see that it is simply an unnecessary barrier to getting the best talent,” Keisling said.
The announcement of inclusive military service is a huge step in the right direction for the recognition of merit among all people who wish to serve in the United States Armed Services, but it is only a step toward full lived equality. Transgender people still face the sting of discrimination in employment, housing, and health care throughout the United States.
“We still have further to go to ensure that no one is denied the opportunity to earn a living, get an education, or put a roof over their heads because of who they are,” Keisling said. “If the military can do it – and they can and will – then the rest of society can do the same. That means updating our state statutes and federal laws to make completely clear that every person is treated equally and fairly.”
NCTE thanks all of our partners in advocating for this change, in particular SPART*A and the Palm Center for their long-standing leadership