The Pentagon chief made the remarks last week at the Air Force Academy in Colorado when questioned by a cadet on the best way to help people adjust to the idea of transgender people in the armed forces.
“This is a complicated issue, and I think it has a lot of ramifications that are very practical ones,” Carter said.
Months after a launching a review of the ban prohibiting trans people from serving in the armed forces, Carter said the principle of enabling trans military service is “sort of settled.”
“What matters is people’s ability to contribute to our military,” Carter said. “That’s what matters. The only barriers we should ever erect to the principle are ones in which there are practical issues that we can’t work through.”
Expressing confidence the issues would be resolved, Carter concluded, “It’s the quality and readiness of the force that matters. That’s the goal. We keep that in front of us.”
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.
Aaron Belkin, director of the San Francisco-based Palm Center, echoed on Friday in response to Carter’s remarks frustration he already expressed over the pace of review of the trans ban, which was ordered nearly a year ago in July.
“The notion that ending discrimination is ‘complicated’ is belied by all the evidence,” Belkin said. “This includes research commissioned and reviewed by the Pentagon itself, which has found that implementing inclusive policy is straightforward.”
According to the New York Times, the RAND Corp. recently completed for the Pentagon a study finding that ending the transgender ban “would have minimal impact on the force” and would be “unlikely to harm unit cohesion.” The Pentagon has refused to release the study.
Carter says implementing openly transgender military service is “complicated” in the same week the Obama administration has made major strides in favor of transgender rights. Progress on lifting the trans military ban isn’t one of them.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch filed litigation against North Carolina’s House Bill 2 as an enforcement action against the anti-LGBT law. The Departments of Education and Justice issued guidance instructing schools that discrimination against transgender students, including for bathroom and locker use, is a violation of federal law.