Pentagon lifts ban on transgender troops, effective immediately

by Gregory Tomlin, |
U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter in a file photo from February 2016. | REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File Photo

WASHIINGTON (Christian Examiner) – The U.S. military will no longer prohibit the service of transgender soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has announced.

Carter made the announcement at the Pentagon June 30 and said the decision was based on the findings of a study he commissioned last July. He added that the policy was being implemented for three reasons: to be inclusive of transgenders currently serving, to welcome transgenders into military service in the future, and what the Obama administration defines as "principle."

"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 during the press conference.

"Our mission is to defend this country," Carter 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."

According to the Department of Defense, it is unclear just how many transgenders are in the U.S. military now, but the department has estimated that "7,000 active and reserve transgender service members on the upper end now wear a military uniform." The number is 2,500 on the lower end of the spectrum.

Carter said his move is intended to provide clear guidance for commanders in the five branches of the military.

The latest iteration of the Obama administration's social experimentation within America's fighting force has earned the universal praise of a broad range of liberal LGBT-support groups.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, for instance, claimed in a statement that Carter's decision was "momentous."

"This decision cements major steps that our U.S. military has made in recent years to become a more inclusive environment (most notably concerning the role of women and the inclusion of gays, lesbians, and bisexual service members). The Pentagon's announcement points markedly to an ongoing cultural conversation about gender and asks the American people to shift their thinking about who is deemed acceptable of serving in the armed forces," MRFF claimed.

The statement continued:

"As a champion of human rights, especially in terms of the freedom of and freedom from religion in the military, MRFF finds it crucial to support the right of individuals to freely express their gender."

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) also praised the move. James Esseks, director of the ACLU's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender & HIV Project, commended Carter for lifting an "outdates and discriminatory policy."

However, Press Secretary Josh Earnest deflected questions from reporters about the policy change during a press conference June 29 at the White House. He claimed the president was not involved in the decision making process, though it is assumed that such actions require the prior approval of the commander-in-chief of all U.S. military forces. Earnest said he had not seen the revised policy.

"I haven't seen it yet, but I'll get a chance to take a look at it before the end of the day today. And we can either discuss at the end of today or in tomorrow's briefing," Earnest said.

Under the new policies, the military will no longer regard transgender service personnel as "medically unfit" for service. But questions on just what role the military will play in helping men transition to women and, vice versa, is still undetermined. It is assumed, however, that the Pentagon will ultimately foot the bill for those who want to "transition" surgically.

Pentagon officials also will have to work out policies for soldiers who want to make changes to their official "gender marker" on their birth certificate.

Carter claims all of the provisions are being enacted to prevent transgender service members from being treated differently.

"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,"Carter said.

"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."

Of the world's 198 nations, only 18 have militaries that allow transgender soldiers to serve openly. Those include Great Britain, Australia, Canada and Israel.