Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel on Sunday said that, while the issue is more complicated than sexual orientation, that ban should be reviewed. Asked by Martha Raddatz on ABC’s This Week about the policy, Hagel said, “This issue of transgender is a bit more complicated, because it has a medical component to it. These issues require medical attention. Austere locations, where we put our men and women, in many cases don’t always provide that kind of opportunity.
“I do think it continually should be reviewed,” he went on. “I’m open to that, by the way. I’m open to those assessments because, again, I go back to the bottom line: every qualified American who wants to serve our country should have an opportunity, if they fit the qualifications and can do it. This is an area where we’ve not defined enough.”
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Despite the prohibition, transgender people serve at double the rate of the general population, though they must keep their gender identity a secret or risk being discharged. A March report by the Palm Center found no reason to continue the ban, determining, “Medical regulations requiring the discharge of transgender personnel are inconsistent with how the military regulates all other medical and psychological conditions, and transgender-related conditions appear to be the only gender-related conditions that require discharge irrespective of fitness for duty.” The commission that produced the report was co-chaired by former Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders and retired Rear Admiral Alan M. Steinman.
Unlike Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, there is no congressional statute dictating the ban on transgender servicemembers, meaning Hagel and the administration could change the policy without needing legislative approval. At least 12 other countries already allow trans people to serve, including: Australia, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Israel, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
Last June, Hagel said at a Pentagon LGBT Pride month event that the fact that gay and lesbian service members can now “serve openly, with full honor, integrity and respect,” it “makes our military and our nation stronger, much stronger.”