WASHINGTON – A Defense Department working group will study the policy and readiness implications of welcoming transgender persons to serve openly in the military, and its work will presume they can do so unless objective and practical impediments are identified, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced today.
In a statement announcing the working group, Carter said that over the last 14 years of conflict, the Defense Department has proven itself to be a learning organization.
“This is true in war, where we have adapted to counterinsurgency, unmanned systems, and new battlefield requirements such as [mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles],” Carter said. “It is also true with respect to institutional activities, where we have learned from how we repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” from our efforts to eliminate sexual assault in the military, and from our work to open up ground combat positions to women.
“Throughout this time,” he continued, “transgender men and women in uniform have been there with us, even as they often had to serve in silence alongside their fellow comrades in arms.”
Outdated Regulations Causing Uncertainty
The Defense Department’s current regulations regarding transgender service members are outdated and are causing uncertainty that distracts commanders from DoD’s core missions, the secretary said.
“At a time when our troops have learned from experience that the most important qualification for service members should be whether they’re able and willing to do their job, our officers and enlisted personnel are faced with certain rules that tell them the opposite,” he added. “Moreover, we have transgender soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines – real, patriotic Americans – who I know are being hurt by an outdated, confusing, inconsistent approach that’s contrary to our value of service and individual merit.”
Carter said he issued two directives today to deal with this matter.
First, DoD will create a working group to study over the next six months the policy and readiness implications of welcoming transgender persons to serve openly. Brad Carson, acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, will lead the group, which will be composed of military and civilian personnel representing all the military services and the Joint Staff and will report directly to Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work.
“At my direction,” Carter said, “the working group will start with the presumption that transgender persons can serve openly without adverse impact on military effectiveness and readiness, unless and except where objective, practical impediments are identified.”
Elevated Decision Authority for Administrative Discharges
Second, the secretary said, he is directing that decision authority in all administrative discharges for those diagnosed with gender dysphoria or who identify themselves as transgender must be elevated to Carson, who will make determinations on all potential separations.
“As I’ve said before, we must ensure that everyone who’s able and willing to serve has the full and equal opportunity to do so, and we must treat all our people with the dignity and respect they deserve,” Carter said. “Going forward, the Department of Defense must and will continue to improve how we do both. Our military’s future strength depends on it.”