In June of last year, the Obama administration sent a covert signal on transgenders in the military when, despite slashes in the Pentagon’s budget, precious resources were expended on a publicity effort to recruit transgenders, using as their spokesperson a transgendered former Navy SEAL, senior chief petty officer Christopher Beck who now calls “herself” Kristin Beck.
A year later, the administration is prepared to make a formal change to the military’s policy.
Lolita C. Baldor reports for the AP that on July 13, 2015, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said that the Pentagon’s current regulations banning transgender individuals from serving in the military are outdated, and ordered a six-month study aimed at formally ending one of the last gender- or sexuality-based barriers to military service.
Carter said he is creating a working group of senior military and civilian leaders who will review the policies and determine if lifting the ban would have any impact on the military’s ability to be ready for battle. But the group will begin with the presumption that transgender people should be able to serve openly “without adverse impact on military effectiveness and readiness, unless and except where objective, practical impediments are identified.”
Note: In other words, the result of the working group’s review is already predetermined.
The plan gives the services time to methodically work through the legal, medical and administrative issues and develop training to ease any transition, and senior leaders believed six months would be sufficient.
Some of the key concerns involved in the repeal of the ban include whether the military would conduct or pay for the medical costs of surgeries and other treatment associated with any gender transition, as well as which physical training or testing standards transgender individuals would be required to meet during different stages of their transition.
Officials said the military also wants time to tackle questions about where transgender troops would be housed, what uniforms they would wear, what berthing they would have on ships, which bathrooms they would use and whether their presence would affect the ability of small units to work well together. The military has dealt with many similar questions as it integrated the ranks by race, gender and sexual orientation.
Transgender people — those who identify with a different gender than they were born with and sometimes take hormone treatments or have surgery to develop the physical characteristics of their preferred gender — are banned from military service. But studies and other surveys have estimated that as many as 15,000 transgender people serve in the active-duty military and the reserves, often in secret but in many cases with the knowledge of their unit commander or peers.
Brynn Tannehill, who services in Individual Ready Reserve and was a Navy pilot before leaving the force and transitioning to a woman, recalled the difficulties when serving: “It was stressful and it was something that I couldn’t talk with anyone about, because if you even breathed a word of it you didn’t know what was going to happen. You could lose your career, that I’d worked so hard for.”
Several Congress members, including Rep. Adam Smith, ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, expressed support for Carter’s decision. But Family Research Council questioned the change. Retired Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, the council’s executive vice president, said, “Considering the abysmal condition of our military and a decline in readiness, why is this a top priority for the Obama administration? The Pentagon must answer whether this proposed policy makes our military more capable of performing its mission. The answer is a very clear and resounding no.”
The latest Pentagon move comes just weeks after the Supreme Court upheld the right of same-sex couples to marry.
Officials said the chiefs of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force did not express opposition to lifting the ban. Instead, they asked for time to figure out health care, housing and other questions and also to provide information and training to the troops to ensure a smooth transition.
The transgender issue came to the fore as the military struggled with how to deal with convicted national security leaker male-to-female transgender Bradley Manning‘s request for hormone therapy and other treatment while in prison. Manning, who now goes by the name Chelsea, is the first transgender military prisoner to request such treatment, and the Army approved the hormone therapy, under pressure from a lawsuit.
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H/t CODA’s M.S.