Defense Department Announces Plan to Lift Ban on Transgender Soldiers

Carter said the plan "will start with the presumption that transgender persons can serve openly"

Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the Pentagon is taking steps to allow transgender troops to serve openly in the United States Armed Forces.

Carter said Monday that he has ordered a six-month study on the issue, with the goal of removing barriers currently preventing transgender people from enlisting.

“The Defense Department’s current regulations regarding transgender service members are outdated and are causing uncertainty that distracts commanders from our core missions,” Carter said in a statement, per the Associated Press. “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.”

According to the AP, studies and surveys show that as many as 15,000 people who identify as transgender currently serve in the military, but generally in secret – although their unit commander or peers might be aware.

The issue of transgender soldiers serving in the military came to the fore in 2013 when U.S. Army private Chelsea Manning announced, “I am female,” in a statement. She had been arrested three years earlier as Bradley Manning for leaking thousands of classified and sensitive documents to WikiLeaks.

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Earlier this year, a military appeals court ruled Manning must be referred to as “she” or in gender-neutral terms. Manning was also the first military prisoner to request hormone therapy, which the Army approved under pressure from a lawsuit, the AP reports.

In Monday’s statement, Carter said the working group tasked with the study “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.”

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