Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush said Wednesday he’s open to the idea of openly transgender military service, but it “would depend on the role” for those troops, according to a recent report in Buzzfeed.
Two days after he officially launched his 2016 campaign for the White House, Bush was reportedly asked about the issue by Buzzfeed during a campaign stop in Iowa when speaking to reporters.
“I’m sure there’s a role for everybody to play in the armed forces,” Bush was quoted as saying. “I think it would depend on the role, the specific role, whether it’s appropriate or not.”
“The first priority for the military is to create an environment where the morale’s high, where people are trained, and we have the best fighting force,” Bush reportedly added. “And if you can accommodate that in that kind of environment, I don’t think there’s a problem for it. But I don’t know anything — I have no knowledge of the specifics of that.”
The question directed to Bush was on an earlier report in Buzzfeed about Jamie Lee Henry, an out transgender military officer who is active duty in the Army. Another transgender person serving openly in the Army is Sgt. Shane Ortega, who’s stationed in Wheeler Airfield in Hawaii.
Repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” enabled openly gay people to serve in the U.S. military, but transgender people are still barred from service because of medical regulation. DOD Instruction 6130.03 calls for separation of service members who undergo gender reassignment or have “psychosexual conditions” that include transvestitism or transsexualism.
Both Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and the White House have expressed openness to the idea of openly transgender military service, but despite calls for a review and ultimately an end to the policy, the ban remains in place. The Army and the Air Force have recently acted to raise the discharge authority needed to expel soldiers and airmen solely on the basis of gender identity.
Sue Fulton, president of the LGBT military SPARTA, said she’s pleased with Bush’s response and it indicates bipartisan support for ending the prohibition of transgender service.
“We’re glad to see that candidates on both sides of the aisle support transgender military service,” Fulton said. “Over 15,000 trans service members are already part of the best fighting force on earth. All we need is for the Secretary of Defense to agree publicly that they should be on the same footing as other service members, with appropriate dignity, integrity, and care – and take action to ensure that.”
The candidate expressed openness to openly transgender even though he opposes other LGBT rights, including same-sex marriage. In an interview Tuesday with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Bush said, “I believe in traditional marriage. I hope the Supreme Court rules that way.”
JoDee Winterhof, vice president for policy and political affairs at the Human Rights Campaign, talked about the importance of openly transgender service in response to a Blade question on Bush’s remarks.
“The estimated 15,500 transgender troops who are currently serving in silence are a living, breathing example of how transgender Americans are qualified to serve openly in the military, just like anyone else,” Winterhof said. “We hope that all candidates who seek to be our next commander in chief will embrace the concept of full LGBT equality in the military, which means the ban on transgender service members should be lifted and that outdated regulations that prevent transgender members of the armed forces from serving openly and honestly are made a thing of the past.”
HRC didn’t immediately respond to a follow-up email on whether Bush’s remarks on transgender service were sufficient for the organization.
Bush isn’t the only candidate to have spoken on the issue of openly transgender military service. Democratic presidential candidates Bernard Sanders and Lincoln Chafee have publicly supported ending the ban on transgender service in the U.S. military.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hasn’t explicitly expressed the issue, but in a recent campaign rally called for ending “discrimination against LGBT Americans and their families so they can live, learn, marry, and work just like everybody else.” The Clinton campaign hasn’t responded for weeks to the Blade’s requests to comment on the issue.
Also on Wednesday, Republican presidential candidate Lindsey Graham was asked about openly transgender service in an interview with Fusion’s Jorge Ramos. The U.S. senator from South Carolina responded that he didn’t know transgender people are barred from service. Although “his preference would be to allow everybody to serve,” Graham said he would need to consult the military before staking out a position.
“I’d like to hear their version of why we do what we do,” Graham said.