The U.S. Army said over the weekend that it would alter the process for dismissing transgender soldiers, a move that will make it easier for such soldiers to serve in the open and that could foreshadow a broader push toward inclusion.
Current Army policy considers transgender people unfit for administrative service. But the Army has issued a directive that shifts the decision for dismissal to the service’s top civilian for personnel matters, a senior-level official, isolating transgender service members from decisions of mid-level officers.
The move echoes the process by which the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was eventually dismantled. After the similar shift in policy was announced by then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in 2011, no gay or lesbian troops were subsequently discharged.
Advocates hailed the new Army policy on transgender soldiers but said more progress must still be made for transgender soldiers to feel welcome in serving.
“This is a welcome step toward inclusive policy, but transgender troops must still live a lie,” said Aaron Belkin, the director of the Palm Center, which has studied the effects of the Army’s ban on transgender members.
“Although Army discharges now require the approval of a senior civilian official, transgender personnel are prohibited from serving, and all eyes are on the Secretary of Defense, awaiting his order to review the ban.”
The Palm Center has estimated the number of current transgender troops serving at around 15,000.
Late last month, new Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said he was “very open-minded” about the possibility of transgender troops serving in the military. He suggested a person’s gender should not be a factor in whether they are fit for service.
“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,” Carter said.
“And I’m very open-minded about — otherwise 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.”
A couple of days later, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said that President Barack Obama agreed with Carter’s comments.
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.