In an interview with Capitol Download’s Susan Page on Wednesday Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said that the ban on transgender troops is likely to be reassessed in the near future and that she believes it should be lifted.
Times Change. [The current policy] is likely to come under review in the next year or so.
From my point of view, anyone who is capable of accomplishing the job should be able to serve.
You know, I think that is likely to come under review in the next year or so. So I think we should stand by, and times change, and we’ll just have to see what happens there.
James is the first secretary of a branch of the armed forces to openly support the idea of ending the ban on transgender troops.
The Williams Institute has estimated that there are currently about 15,500 transgender people now serving in the US military.
Conservative forces say allowing transgender troops to serve openly would create complications on issues of housing and health care.
Aaron Belkin of The Palm Center called James’ remarks a positive step.
President Obama is the commander in chief and is ultimately responsible for setting policy, and it is imperative for him to clarify his position as well.
[James’ remarks] provide further proof that it is only a question of when, not if, the outdated, discriminatory ban on transgender troops will be lifted.
–Ian Thompson, ACLU
About two dozen transgender people have been dismissed for being transgender in the last two years according to advocates, who also point out that there has been more openness to letting us serve.
I think there’s a false sense of security, and part of that is that everybody involved, from the secretary of defense to me and all these service members, we all know it’s inevitable [that the policy will be changed] and it’s inevitable relatively soon. In the meantime, there’s all these service members who are at great risk.
–Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality
Earlier this year a Palm Center commission led by former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders and several retired generals found that “transgender service could be lifted in a way that would not be burdensome or exceedingly complex for the military.”
That led in May to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s statement that he was open to a review that could lift the ban. With Hagel’s resignation, the status of such a review has become questionable.
An August change to a Pentagon personnel policy removes at least one layer of blockage to transgender service.
The update – to Defense Department Instruction 1332.18, Disability Evaluation System – provides a loophole for the services to let transgender troops serve instead of requiring administrative separation, the Palm Center says.
The old policy listed transgender identity as a “congenital or developmental defect” that mandated administrative separation.
The instruction issued Aug. 5 drops that provision, which the activists, including three retired flag or general officers, representatives from the ACLU, the Transgender American Veterans Association and others, say means the services now can discharge individuals with perceived defects only if those defects interfere with their performance or duty assignment.
By this new regulation, the Pentagon has gotten out of the business of deciding when service members are fit or unfit for duty, and that’s a big policy change.
The change, which dropped an entire list of disqualifying conditions from the DoD instruction, places the onus on the services to update their policies, now based on a list that no longer exists.
–Diane Mazur, Air Force veteran and professor of law emerita at the University of Florida College of Law
Other conditions on that list were mental retardation, honosexuality, unsanitary habits, repeated venereal infections, and phobic fear of air, sea and submarine travel.
The only obstacle blocking transgender service then is the fact that the individual branches have not updated their policies to match the DOD’s. The Palm Center report notes that by maintaining categorical prohibitions, the services are enforcing regulations that “are too sweeping” because they do not distinguish conditions that impair fitness for assignment or duty from those – like being trans – that don’t. In other words, transgender identities remain a disqualification for purely tautological reasons.
—Zack Ford, Think Progress
The Palm Center commission concluded with
If the DoD declines to eliminate discriminatory policy, the commander-in-chief should take executive action to effect the change.
At least 18 countries allow transgender individuals to serve openly, including our closest allies, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia.
We’re closer to transgender service than we’ve ever been.
Some activists believe that Hagel should begin a review of transgender service before he departs.
Secretary Hagel’s leadership has been critical to the steady progress LGBT service members and their families have experienced during his tenure, and we commend him for living up to his belief that ‘Every qualified American who wants to serve our country should have the opportunity to serve,'” In his remaining days in office, we call upon him to uphold those values by initiating a review of the Department of Defense’s obsolete policies that bar fully qualified transgender Americans from serving. Mr. Secretary, six months ago you promised 15,000 transgender service members and their families a review would happen. We expect you to keep your promise to them.
–Allyson Robinson, a former Army captain and director of policy for the LGBT military group SPARTA
[Review] should proceed with all due haste and nothing should slow it down.
–Fred Sainz, vice president of the Human Rights Campaign
Speaking against service by transgender people we have Peter Spriggs of the Family Research Council and Elaine Donnelly of the Center for Military Readiness.
The military has always considered gender identity disorder to be disqualifying for military service on mental health grounds, and I don’t see any reason why they should change that policy.
Apparently Spriggs is unaware that “gender identity disorder” is no longer listed as a psychiatric disorder, having been replaced by “gender dysphoria,” which is more about the discomfort of being treated as less than human because of gender non-conformity.
Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, told LifeSiteNews this spring that changing the policy “would have serious consequences” and “does not make sense for the military.” She warned that some transgender people may opt to join the military to receive sex-change operations paid for by the American taxpayer.
Sprigg said all “the slippery slope predictions we made” following the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell “are coming true – that it would simply be the first step toward the imposition of an even more radical social agenda upon the military.”