The U.S. Army is considering what would be a significant change to its transgender policy, according to a draft document obtained by USA Today.
The shift in policy wouldn’t remove an outright ban on transgender men and women serving in the Army, but it would make it harder for them to be discharged, according to the draft memorandum.
Under the proposed change in policy, transgender officers could only be removed from service through a decision by the assistant secretary of the Army for personnel. The new policy would be in effect for 12 months, according to the document, but it could also be supplanted by a broader change in the Army’s transgender policy.
Current Army policy considers transgender people “administratively unfit” for service.
The alteration would largely mirror the military’s slow walk toward undoing the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that had allowed gays and lesbians to serve in the military unless their sexual orientation was discovered — though the Army’s transgender policy is not law.
In the years before that policy was repealed in 2011, a shift in policy left the decision of troop discharges to higher officers, including the Department of Defense’s top lawyer. Under that policy shift, no further troops were discharged. In announcing the policy, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the department would make enforcement of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell “fairer and more appropriate.”
LGBT advocates welcomed the potential shift on the Army’s transgender policy, news of which came days after the Army had approved hormone therapy for convicted national-security leaker Chelsea Manning. But they cautioned against drawing conclusions from a draft memorandum, and they slightly downplayed the policy’s potential effects.
"Assigning responsibility for discharge decisions to a senior official would be a welcome step toward inclusive policy, but transgender troops will still have to serve in silence until more is done to dismantle the ban," Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, told USA Today.
Added ACLU lawyer Joshua Block: “Hopefully this is a signal that the Army — and other service branches — will finally begin a comprehensive review of the regulations regarding transgender servicemembers, which everyone agrees is long overdue.”
The Army had no comment on the draft document pertaining to its transgender policy.
“I have nothing for you on that issue,” Army spokeswoman Lt. Col. Alayne Conway told Fusion.
New Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter is set to be sworn in on Tuesday after his confirmation last week. The White House said President Barack Obama would meet with Carter in the Oval Office on Tuesday afternoon after his swearing-in ceremony.
Brett LoGiurato is the senior national political correspondent at Fusion, where he covers all things 2016. He'll give you everything you need to know about politics, with a healthy side of puns.