Transgender Military Service: Pentagon Announces Moratorium on Discharges

By Sheryl Estrada

The Department of Defense (DOD) announced on Monday a moratorium on discharges of transgender service members in conjunction with a new six-month study to dissect its transgender policy.

“Today’s announcement is welcome news, not just for the 15,500 transgender personnel serving currently, but for all Americans,” Palm Center director Aaron Belkin said in a statement.

In 2014, the Palm Center, an independent research institute based in San Francisco conducting studies on transgender troops, released, “Report of the Planning Commission on Transgender Military Service,” which found that allowing transgender personnel to serve inthe military “is administratively feasible and neither excessively complex nor burdensome.”

The authors of the study, including three retired General Officers and scholars and experts, concluded there is no compelling medical reason for the ban, as well as inconsistencies and inaccuracies in the Pentagon’s rationale for the policy.

“Both the research as well as the lessons of 18 foreign militaries that have lifted their bans on transgender personnel show that lifting the ban will not be difficult,” Belkin said.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said in a statement that, over the next six months, the DOD will study “the policy and readiness implications of welcoming transgender persons to serve openly,” led by (Acting) Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Brad Carson, along with military and civilian personnel. And Carson is now the “decision authority in all administrative discharges for those diagnosed with gender dysphoria or who identify themselves as transgender.”

Carter, who called the current regulations “outdated,” notes the working group will start with the presumption that transgender people “can serveopenly without adverse impact on military effectiveness and readiness, unless and except where objective, practical impediments are identified.”

The group will determine clear direction on occupational, administrative and medicals issues, including changes on personnel records of name and gender and medical coverage for transitioning service members.

Since the Supreme Court ruling in June making same-gender marriage legal in all 50 states, lawmakers have urged the DOD to allow transgender people to serve openly.

In February, new to his position at the Pentagon, Carter began showing support for allowing transgender troops. During his address to service members in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Lieutenant Commander John Ehrenfield asked Carter, “What are your thoughts on transgender members serving in an austere environment like this here in Kandahar”

Carter responded, “We want to make our conditions and experience of service as attractive as possible for our best people. I don’t think their suitability for service should preclude them.”

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said President Obama concurred with Carter’s comment: “I can tell you the president agrees with the sentiment that all Americans who are qualified to serve should be able to serve, and for that reason, we here at the White House welcome the comments of the secretary of defense.”

President Obama does not have an official position on transgender people serving in the military; however, the White House has launched the Military Acceptance Project, promoting the acceptance of all service members.

In 2011, the Obama administration brought an end to the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), which then allowed openly gay people to serve in the military.

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