New Defense Secretary Ashton Carter indicated that he is open to transgender people serving in the U.S. military, as long as they can do what is required of them.
A Department of Defense (DoD) regulation prohibits transgender individuals from openly serving in the military. The Pentagon has the power to change that policy without congressional approval because it is a regulation, not a law.
During his first trip overseas as secretary, Carter visited American troops stationed in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar, located along the Pakistan border and known as the birthplace of the Taliban. Kandahar is one of the deadliest areas of the Afghanistan war for U.S. forces.
After thanking them for their service and sacrifice, Carter took questions from U.S. soldiers in Kandahar.
A Lieutenant Commander asked the newly sworn-in defense secretary, “What are your thoughts on transgender service members serving in an austere environment like this here in Kandahar?”
“I’m very open-minded about… what their personal lives and proclivities are, provided they can do what we need them to do for us. That’s the important criteria. Are they going to be excellent service members? And I don’t think anything but their suitability for service should preclude them,” Carter responded.
“I come at that from a fundamental starting point. It’s not something I’ve studied a lot since I became secretary of defense. But I come at this kind of question from a fundamental starting point, which is that we want to make our conditions and experience of service as attractive as possible to our best people in our country.”
A draft document obtained by USA Today earlier this month revealed that the Army, the largest branch of the U.S. armed forces, was considering easing up its policy on transgender soldiers.
“The move would make it more difficult to remove such troops from the service,” reported USA Today.
“Instead of being made by lower-level Army officers, the memorandum says, the decision to discharge transgender soldiers would be made by the assistant secretary of the Army for personnel,” added the article. “In all services, transgender troops can be automatically dismissed from service on medical grounds once they are identified.”
The Army already made the move, for the first time, of allowing hormone treatment for Bradley Manning, a transgender soldier convicted of leaking national security secrets. Manning is serving a 35-year sentence at the Fort Leavenworth military prison.
Secretary of the Air Force Deborah James supports lifting the ban on transgender troops.
Advocates claim that nearly 15,000 transgender individuals already serve in the active U.S. military or the reserves.
As his chief of staff, Carter chose former acting Air Force Secretary Eric Fanning, who will be the first openly gay man to hold the post.
A Democrat-controlled Congress repealed the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law in December 2010, thus allowing gays, lesbians, and bisexuals to openly serve in the military. President Obama signed the repeal into law.