July 29, 2015 at 6:50 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
First steps of Pentagon review on trans service underway

transgender, service members, gay news, Washington Blade

The first steps of the review of the transgender military ban are underway. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Pentagon has started its first steps of reviewing the U.S. military’s ban on openly transgender service and has scheduled a meeting with top brass on the issue, a defense official said Wednesday. The news was first reported by USA Today.

The defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the working group established to examine openly transgender military service is set to hold its first meeting on Monday.

“The working group will be comprised of military and civilian personnel from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the various military services and the Joint Staff and will look at the policy and readiness implications of welcoming transgender persons to serve openly in the U.S. military,” the official said.

According to USA Today, key issues for the Pentagon to resolve are housing for transgender troops, what uniforms they’ll be permitted to wear and medical treatments. It’s unclear at this point if the military intends cover transition-related care for transgender service members.

In a memo dated July 28 and obtained Wednesday by the Washington Blade, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter outlines his plan for transgender service that he announced earlier this month. The memo seeks to protect transgender troops from expulsion and directs officials to develop a plan within six months to incorporate those troops into the ranks.

“The working group will start with the assumption that transgender persons can serve openly without adverse impact on military effectiveness and readiness unless and except where objective, practical impediments are identified, and shall present its recommendations to me within 180 days,” Carter says.

Carter writes in the memo as of July 13 no service member may be involuntarily separated or denied reenlistment on the basis of gender identity without the personal approval of a senior civilian official — an apparent attempt to limit or halt further discharges. The senior civil official given this authority is Brad Carson, under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, who’s also leading the working group.

Although repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” enabled openly gay people to serve in the U.S. military, transgender troops are prohibited from serving openly in the armed forces under DOD Instruction 6130.03, which calls for separation of service members who undergo gender reassignment or have “psychosexual conditions” that include transvestitism or transsexualism.

Amid building pressure from LGBT advocates to lift the trans ban, Carter announced last month he intends to set up a working group that over a six-month period is set to examine the policy with a bias toward allowing Americans to serve in the armed forces regardless of gender identity and raised the authority to discharge individuals in the armed forces on the basis of gender identity.

Sue Fulton, president of the LGBT military group SPARTA, said the process underway at the Pentagon is “moving forward with appropriate speed.”

“Pentagon leaders recognize the problems currently facing unit commanders, who have been trying to support their transgender troops under unwieldy and confusing regulations,” Fulton added. “The next few months will allow the Working Group to bring a hodgepodge of outdated personnel and medical policies into alignment with current medical understanding; the result will strengthen the force and keep good troops where we need them.”

Aaron Belkin, director of the San Francisco-based Palm Center, said plenty of material exists that can help guide the Pentagon toward openly transgender military service.

“The research by retired General and Flag Officers as well as the experiences of 18 foreign militaries, who allow transgender troops to serve, show that administrative and medical issues associated with lifting the ban are not complicated or burdensome, and that implementation is easy to get right,” Belkin said.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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