Five years ago, the United States military made history by officially allowing gay and lesbian people to openly serve in the armed forces without fear of being kicked out due to their sexual orientation. Now, Pentagon officials have followed up on that move by announcing that the military will now allow transgender people to openly serve, removing one of the last bans restricting certain groups of people from military service.
“Effective immediately, transgender Americans may serve openly,” Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said at a press conference yesterday, Matthew Rosenberg reports for The New York Times. “They can no longer be discharged or otherwise separated from the military just for being transgender.”
Over the next three months, Pentagon officials will create guidelines for commanders on how to lead transgender service members, as well as medical guidance for doctors and field medics on how to treat transgender people, Andrew Tilghman writes for the Military Times. According to Carter, the military will also cover the medical costs for transgender soldiers to transition, and says the decision will also pave the way for better mental health care for transgender soldiers.
Some military leaders and elected officials opposed the decision to lift the ban, claiming that there isn’t enough information on whether transgender people are medically ready to be deployed in the field. However, a recent study by the RAND Corporation commissioned by Pentagon officials found that currently thousands of transgender people both on active duty and in the reserves. While many have had to hide their gender identities for years to avoid being kicked out of the armed forces, they will now be able to come out without fear of official recrimination, Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart report for Reuters.
“We’re military officers. We are trained to be adaptable, and I get so frustrated when people think we’re not going to be able to deal with this,” Army Captain Sage Fox, who was put on inactive duty after she came out as transgender to her unit in 2013, tells Rosenberg. “You’re on the battlefield, the situation changes in the blink of an eye, we adapt and overcome. That’s what we do.”
The U.S. isn’t the first major military force to allow transgender people to openly serve. Several important allies, including the United Kingdom, Israel and Australia already allow transgender people to serve in their forces. At the same time, it has become increasingly common in recent years for private companies to offer health insurance and medical support to transgender employees—another factor that Carter cited in the decision to lift the ban, Rosenberg reports. While Pentagon officials say they expect medical costs to go up as a result, officially supporting transgender troops could likely lead to a drop in rates of depression and suicide for these servicemen and women.
“Americans who want to serve and can meet our standards should be afforded the opportunity to compete to do so,” Carter told reporters as Rosenberg reports. “After all, our all-volunteer force is built upon having the most qualified Americans. And the profession of arms is based on honor and trust.”