UPDATE — 6/30, 1:57 p.m. EDT: Defense Secretary Ash Carter officially announced a change in Pentagon policy Thursday, which will effectively allow transgender persons to serve in the U.S. military.
Pointing to personnel needs, Carter said the armed forces needs “access to 100 percent” of the population to recruit “those who can best accomplish the mission.”
According to a study commissioned by the Pentagon, there are anywhere between 1,320 and 6,630 active-duty troops who are transgender.
Carter said that the Defense Department is in the process of creating official military protocol and “guidance for changing a service member’s gender in the Defense Eligibility Enrollment System,” which will be released by Oct. 1.
According to Defense Department officials the ban on transgender troops serving in the military could end as early as July 1, just a few days before Independence Day.
The military would then have one year to implement changes that would affect recruitment, uniforms and housing for transgender soldiers.
Last year, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said that the ban would be lifted unless it was proven to have an “adverse impact on military effectiveness and readiness.” According to Carter, the ban affects a fraction of the 1.3 million men and women currently in uniform.
Last July, the Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas, questioned the motives and practicality of lifting the ban in a letter to his fellow Congressmen.
“What would be the projected cost of changing the transgender service policy? To what extent would military barracks, ship berths, gym shower facilities, latrines, and other facilities have to be modified to accommodate personnel in various stages of transition and what would be the projected cost of these modifications?” Thornberry wrote.
Thornberry went on to question if the military would have to pay for gender re-assignment surgery for transgender personnel.
When Thornberry found out about the impending end to the ban on transgender soldiers, he was critical of the timing.
“If reports are correct, I believe Secretary Carter has put the political agenda of a departing administration ahead of the military’s readiness crisis,” Thornberry said. “The force is exhausted from back to back deployments and spending their home-station time scrambling to get enough equipment and training before they deploy again. My focus is on helping the troops now — to be the most effective, deployable force possible.”
Thornberry went on to say that his criticisms purely reflected his concerns about military readiness.
“There are readiness challenges that first must be addressed, such as the extent to which such individuals would be medically non-deployable,” he said. “Almost a year has passed with no answer to our questions from Secretary Carter. Our top priority must be warfighting effectiveness and individual readiness is an essential part of that.”
According to a RAND Corp. study cited by the New York Times, there are an estimated 2, 500 transgender troops currently serving and that only 65 of those would seek medical leave for gender re-assignment surgery.
[USA Today] [New York Times] [CNN]