Pentagon lifts ban on transgender service members

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced Thursday that the Defense Department has lifted the ban on transgender people serving in the U.S. military, saying the all-volunteer force should be able to recruit the most qualified from “100 percent of America’s population.”

“Our mission is to defend this country and we don’t want barriers unrelated to a person’s qualification to serve preventing us from recruiting or retaining the soldier, sailor, airman or Marine who can best accomplish the mission,” Carter said, and identified two other reasons.

While there is no definitive data on the number of transgender troops, officials conducted a study that estimated about 2,500 to 7,000 transgender Americans out of 1.3 million active-duty service members are in the U.S. Armed Forces, and another 1,500 to 4,000 serving in the reserve. The estimates bleed into Cater’s second reason to lift the ban: retaining qualified staff.

He said the third reason for the change is a matter of principle. “Americans who want to serve and can meet our standards should be afforded the opportunity to compete to do so.  After all, our all-volunteer force is built upon having the most qualified Americans, and the profession of arms is based on honor and trust,” he said.

According to the study, any changes in medical treatment would be minimal and current fitness standards would not change, Carter said.

“Effective immediately, transgender Americans may serve openly and they can no longer be discharged or otherwise separated from the military just for being transgender,” he said.

Removing restrictions based on gender identity is one of three major changes to occur under President Obama’s administration. In March, the Defense Department approved plans to open combat roles and special operations to women. In 2011, Congress repealed the policy that prohibited gays from serving openly.