Transgender advocates are growing impatient with the ongoing review of the U.S. military’s ban on openly trans service, which continues to lag at the Pentagon.
The repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” enabled openly lesbian, gay and bisexual people to serve in the U.S. armed forces, but transgender people are still barred from open service as a result of medical regulation instituted in the 1980s.
Under pressure from transgender advocates, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced last year the Pentagon would conduct a six-month review of the trans ban with the goal of enabling open service. Any potential discharges under the ban would be referred to a senior defense official, effectively grinding them to a halt.
Although the Pentagon has said a decision will come in the spring, discontent with the pace of the review piqued last week when the New York Times editorial board accused the Obama administration of delay and called for action.
“If the changes are not made expeditiously, Mr. Carter runs the risk of leaving office with an unfulfilled promise to a small, but important, segment of Americans who want to continue serving their country honorably,” the article says. “That would be unfair to them, squander investments the military has made in highly skilled personnel and tarnish the legacy of a defense secretary who has done much to make the Pentagon a more inclusive and attractive employer.”
Although discharges under the ban are effectively on hold, the policy continues to affect careers, as the New York Times pointed out, because openly transgender people are still unable to enlist in the armed forces.
Echoing the discontent of the New York Times was Aaron Belkin, director of the San Francisco-based Palm Center, a think tank calling on the U.S. military to join other countries in enabling transgender service.
“Six months is more than enough time to study the implications of lifting the ban,” Belkin said. “Thousands of currently serving transgender service members are in limbo waiting for action from the Pentagon, and are wondering what explains the delay.”
On the same day the New York Times editorial board published its article urging the Pentagon take action, the Palm Center issued a memo identifying 14 times the Pentagon completed complex reviews of military policy within two to six months. These reviews include assessments of health care treatment in military hospitals, the U.S. military’s nuclear program, U.S. intelligence operations in Afghanistan and whether women should be assigned to combat positions.
“There is no reason it should take any longer to study openly transgender service than it took to assess U.S. intelligence operations in Afghanistan,” Belkin added.
Under questioning from the Washington Blade this week on whether President Obama is satisfied with the pace of the review of trans military service, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said he had no update and referred to the Pentagon.
“I haven’t gotten an update on that ongoing process, but I’d encourage you to check with the Department of Defense,” Earnest said. “Obviously, Secretary Carter has made a pretty forceful statement in terms of the kinds of values that he believes should be embodied in military policy. He does believe that people who are capable of serving their country and have a desire to do so should be allowed to do that and they shouldn’t be discriminated against just because of who they are.”
Earnest said Obama “approves of the value statement that we heard from Secretary Carter” at the start of the review, but the Pentagon will be the source of implementing new policy “to make sure that we’re doing that consistent with the recommendations of the military leadership.”
Earnest, who one day earlier decried an anti-transgender bathroom bill pending before the Tennessee as “mean-spirited,” dismissed the idea the Obama administration’s criticism of that bill is contrary to its policy of barring transgender people from the armed services.
“I guess I’d point out that’s why we’re looking to change it,” Earnest said. “And that’s why Secretary Carter indicated that they’re looking to changing it.”
Asked if Obama as commander-in-chief expects the U.S. military to lift the ban on trans service before the end of his administration, Earnest again deferred to the Defense Department.
“I don’t know what their timeline is, but you should check with them,” Earnest said.
A Pentagon spokesperson told the Blade the department is preparing policy options on transgender service. Although the working group conducting the review has concluded its meeting schedule, the group hasn’t yet reported findings and recommendations to the defense secretary, the spokesperson said.
According to The Hill newspaper, Brad Carson, the recently departed personnel chief at the Pentagon who was leading the review on transgender service, said last week during an event at the Center for Strategic & International Studies there’s virtually no opposition to lifting the trans ban among military leadership.
“There are no substantive arguments,” Carson is quoted as saying. “There are modest disagreements about how to execute this. But there are things about, should you have the 10-year passport or the two-year passport be the gender marker change. These are very technical questions that don’t suggest any kind of massive pushback.”
Carson reportedly said the Pentagon was waiting for the completion of a RAND Corp. report on prevalence, readiness and healthcare costs on transgender people in the military before making a final decision.
According to the New York Times piece, the RAND Corp. report is complete and determined between 29 and 129 service members would seek transition-related medical care annually, but not yet available to the public.
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said on Twitter transgender service members “deserve to live openly” as he linked to the New York Times article.
— Chad Griffin (@ChadHGriffin) April 6, 2016