US Defense Secretary open to trans people in the military

On Sunday, the new US Defense Secretary, Ashton Carter, made clear his views on allowing transgender people to serve openly in the military. At a town-hall in Afghanistan, Carter was asked his thoughts on transgender people serving in an "austere environment." Carter said he aims to make "service as attractive as possible to our best people in our country…provided they can do what we need them to do for us."  He went on the say that he doesn't think "anything but their suitability for service should preclude them."

Previous Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had neglected to review the ban, despite making a commitment that he would address it. The policy, DoDI 6130.03, which outlines the medical standards for enlisting and serving in the military, currently prohibits people in need of gender-confirming medical care. Hagel announced he would step down as Secretary of Defense last November.

“Secretary Carter is right – being transgender should not exclude anyone from serving in America’s military,” said Allyson Robinson, former Army captain and SPARTA Director of Policy. “Transgender Americans are serving today with honor and distinction, but must serve in silence and forgo medically necessary care to do so. There is no reason for this to continue. Secretary Carter must lead the way by ordering a top-down, department level review of the regulations.”

"Repealing 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' did not finish the job of ensuring that all Americans who wish to serve their country in uniform may do so without being forced to lie about who they are," said GLAAD Vice President of Programs Zeke Stokes, who was involved in the fight to repeal the discriminatory law before joining GLAAD last year. "Sadly, transgender service members who are putting their lives on the line every day to keep our country safe are serving in silence. It's time to acknowledge their service, honor their sacrifice, and allow them to serve open and honestly, without fear of losing the job they love simply for being who they are."

Stokes is also a co-producer on the project, TransMilitary, which documents the military's discriminatory policies on transgender service.

In 2014, two studies were completed, both of which found that permitting transgender people to serve openly would be "neither excessively complex nor burdensome." One of the studies, released by the Palm Center, concluded that "there is no compelling medical rationale for banning transgender military service, and that eliminating the ban would advance a number of military interests, including enabling commanders to better care for their service members."

Eighteen countries around the world allow transgender people to serve openly. A report, released by the Williams Institute, estimates the as many as 15,000 transgender individuals are currently serving on active duty, but are forced to remain closeted, or risk being discharged. The American Military Partner Association (AMPA) issued a call for Carter to act on his word by striking down the ban on transgender service members.