Today, HRC responded to Secretary of Defense James Mattis’ decision to delay by six months the implementation of the final piece of a policy that allows qualified transgender people to serve in the armed forces. While transgender service members serve openly today thanks to a change implemented last year under the previous administration, a final piece of the policy that will allow qualified transgender people to enter the military has yet to go into effect. Implementation had previously been scheduled to go into place by July 1, 2017.
“Once this important policy is implemented, it will strengthen our military by allowing qualified and talented transgender people to enlist or commission,” said Stephen Peters, HRC National Press Secretary and Marine veteran discharged under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. “Each day that passes without the policy in place restricts the armed forces’ ability to recruit the best and the brightest, regardless of gender identity. We are disappointed in this needless delay because the thousands of highly trained and qualified transgender service members openly and proudly serving our nation today have proven that what matters is the ability to accomplish the mission, not their gender identity.”
The Associated Press reported last week that the service chiefs were recommending the six month delay to Secretary Mattis in order to “gauge if currently serving transgender troops are facing problems and what necessary changes the military bases might have to make.”
On June 30, 2016, the Pentagon lifted the ban on transgender people serving openly in the U.S. military, joining eighteen other countries, including the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and Israel, which allow transgender people to serve openly in their militaries. Immediately following the policy’s announcement, transgender people already serving in the military were able to do so openly and were no longer able to be discharged simply because of their gender identity. The final piece of this policy which has been delayed by six months will allow qualified transgender recruits to enter the military.
The Pentagon issued the 2016 directive after a year-long intensive working group that studied the implications of transgender military service. A study sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Center of RAND’s National Defense Research Institute found that there would be minimal health care costs and negligible readiness implications associated with allowing transgender people to serve in the military — contrary to the rhetoric and unfounded claims from some anti-LGBTQ activists.
According to the Williams Institute, there are an estimated 15,500 actively serving transgender members of the U.S. military, making the Department of Defense (DoD) the largest employer of transgender people in America. Like their lesbian, gay, and bisexual counterparts, transgender people were previously barred from serving openly in the United States military. However, unlike the repealed statutory ban that prohibited lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members from serving openly (known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”), the ban on transgender military service was regulatory and only required action by the Secretary of Defense.
Thousands of transgender people have served with honor and distinction in our military, including the more than 134,000 transgender veterans who are alive today. As transgender service members risk their lives around the world—sometimes in combat zones—the previous ban made them unable to be their authentic selves or seek the medical care they needed. This had negative implications for our nation’s military readiness. A service member who is able to be open and honest about their gender identity and receive appropriate care is more productive and focused on the mission. In addition, the military was discharging highly trained and talented transgender service members on the basis of regulations that were nearly forty years out of date.