The 2011 repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ended the ban on gay, lesbian, and bisexual people serving in the military, but the ban on transgender servicemembers persisted under military policy. On Thursday, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced at a press conference that a process is now underway to officially lift that ban.
Carter said that he will be telling commanders to “start with the presumption that transgender people can serve openly without impact on military readiness.” He lauded the process that led to the announcement, emphasizing that what is most important is whether a servicemember is qualified and fit for duty.
“Effective immediately, transgender Americans may serve openly, and they cannot be discharged or otherwise separated from the military just for being transgender.”
Carter explained the policies will be implemented over the next 12 months, which will include training for the entire armed services. The estimated nearly 10,000 transgender people already serving in the military can come out now, but new transgender recruits will not be accepted until a year from now.
Transgender people who are in the early process of their transition will not be allowed to enlist. They will have to provide documentation from a doctor showing that they have been living as their gender identity for 18 months and are free of any distress. This will not necessarily require surgery.
For those who are already serving when they begin to transition — including future new recruits — they will receive medically appropriate care as determined by their providers. This could include any related surgeries, if deemed medically necessary. Carter said that studies found that any costs related to this care would be “extremely minimal.” Commanders, however, would have some discretion over the timing of non-urgent aspects of that care, because “readiness and deployability are critical,” Carter explained.
Carter also confirmed during the press conference that the Defense Department will amend its Military Equal Opportunity policy to include nondiscrimination protections on the basis of gender identity.
The LGBT military group SPARTA, which has been at the forefront of advocating for transgender servicemembers, praised the announcement. SPARTA president former Army Captain Sue Fulton said, “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.”