Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel expressed an openness in an interview that aired Sunday to the idea of reviewing the U.S. military’s ban on openly transgender service, saying all Americans should be able to serve “if they fit the qualifications and can do it.”
Hagel said the military’s ban on transgender service “continually should be reviewed” when asked by reporter Martha Radditz about the issue during an ABC News’ “This Week” interview that was taped on Saturday.
“I do think it continually should be reviewed,” Hagel said. “I’m open to that by the way.”
But Hagel qualified his willingness to review the issue by saying the issue of transgender service is “a bit more complicated” because it has a “medical component to it,” saying the issue “is an area that we have not defined enough.”
“These issues require medical attention,” Hagel said. “Austere locations where we put our men and women in many cases don’t always provide that kind of opportunity.”
Prior to the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2010, the Pentagon conducted a review of open service headed by then-Pentagon general counsel Jeh Johnson and then-Commander of U.S. Army-Europe Gen. Carter Ham. The report, which laid out the way for the military to adjust to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, was what enabled Pentagon leaders to come on board with the idea of open service.
Allyson Robinson, a transgender advocate and policy director for the LGBT military group SPART*A, praised Hagel for backing a review of the current ban, which has been in place since before 1980.
“We appreciate that Secretary Hagel recognizes that these medical regulations are over thirty years old, are inconsistent with current medical practice, and negatively impact military readiness,” Robinson said. “They harm our service members and weaken our military.”
Unlike “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the military’s ban on transgender service could be lifted at any time within the Pentagon because it wasn’t codified into law and is instead a medical regulation.
The issue of transgender service has received new attention following the publication of a front-page story in the Washington Post about Landon Wilson, a former sailor who was discharged in March from the Navy — even though he possessed critical skills on intercepting enemy communications.
In the same week the Post story ran, the Human Goals Charter signed by top military brass at the Pentagon lacked any mention of transgender people — either on the military or civilian side — even though other categories, including sexual orientation, were enumerated in the document.
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said she welcomes a review at the Pentagon and looks forward to “working with the Pentagon to end these outdated rules that harm our military.”
“This willingness to evaluating changes to the medical regulations is overdue but very welcome,” Keisling said. “If the secretary were able to meet and talk with the trans service members I’ve met, he’d understand the answer is self-evident. These are amazing people who serve even though they must hide a basic part of who they are.”
A spokesperson for the Pentagon said Sunday he had nothing to add about any plans for a review other than to reiterate Hagel’s remarks on “This Week.”
For his part, Hagel asserted during his interview that military service should be open to all Americans — as long as they meet the qualifications to do the job.
“I’m open to those assessments, because again I go back to the bottom line that every qualified American who wants to serve our country should have an opportunity if they fit the qualifications and can do it,” Hagel said.