Army Makes Another Move Toward Lifting Ban On Transgender Soldiers

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter. (Photo: Pool, Getty Images)
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.
(Photo: Pool, Getty Images)

The Army issued a directive Friday that protects transgender soldiers from being dismissed by mid-level officers by requiring the decision for discharge to be made by the service’s top civilian for personnel matters.

The Army’s new policy is the latest indication that the military’s ban on transgender troops may be eased or even lifted.

Last month, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told troops he was “very open-minded” about transgender troops, adding that nothing but a person’s ability to serve should keep them from serving. Two days later, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said President Obama endorsed Carter’s comments.

USA TODAY first reported on the policy change in the All Army Activities directive when it was in draft form. An Army spokeswoman Saturday downplayed the move.

“The Army policy concerning separation of transgender soldiers has not changed,” said Lt. Col. Alayne Conway, a spokeswoman. “By elevating disposition authority, the action will ensure consistency in the application of existing Department of Defense and Army policy.”

In essence, the announcement places a moratorium on dismissals by requiring officers to explain their decision to discharge a transgender soldier to a high-ranking civilian leader, a move many would view as potentially damaging to their careers. The Pentagon took the same tack when it backed away from its Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy that banned gay and lesbian troops. It required a review of decisions to discharge gay troops by the department’s top lawyer and service secretaries, and no further dismissals occurred.

Troops with gender dysphoria, a recognized medical condition, are barred from serving in the military for medical reasons. The Army is the first of the services to chip away at that ban. Last month, the Army also approved hormone treatments for Chelsea Manning, the transgender soldier convicted of divulging a trove of classified information to WikiLeaks. There are indications other services may follow suit, with Air Force Secretary Deborah James telling USA TODAY that she favors repealing the ban as well.

The latest move received cautious approval from advocates for transgender soldiers.

“The army’s decision to move forward and finalize the ALARACT is a big step in the right direction,” said Joshua Block, staff attorney for the LGBT and HIV projects at the American Civil Liberties Union. “But it is still just a step, and there is urgent work that still remains to be done. The most encouraging provision of the new policy is the provision suggesting that more comprehensive revisions may be coming within the next 12 months.”

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SOURCE: USA Today – Tom Vanden Brook

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