In comments May 11 to ABC News, the Pentagon’s chief signaled his openness to reviewing the longstanding ban on transgender military service members.
“I do think it continually should be reviewed,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told Martha Raddatz on “This Week.”
The ban on service by transgender personnel, based on what the military describes as “medical” considerations, continued even after the ban on gay, lesbian, and bisexual Americans was lifted in September 2011. But, a March report from the Palm Center, a think tank at the University of California at Santa Barbara that focuses on issues affecting sexual minorities in the military, concluded that there is “no compelling rationale for banning transgender military service.”
The report also an estimated there are 15,450 transgender service members currently serving in active and reserve military units, including the National Guard.
Hagel said the ban on transgender personnel focuses on the medical needs of those individuals and is “a bit more complicated.” He said his biggest concern is providing medical support to transgender individuals in “austere locations.” But, he said, he is “open to those assessments” that suggest transgender service members can be accommodated.
“I go back to the bottom line — every qualified American who wants to serve our country should have an opportunity if they fit the qualifications and can do it,” Hagel said.
Advocacy groups, including the Service Members, Partners, Allies for Respect and Tolerance For All, wasted no time in responding to Hagel’s comments with cautious optimism.
“We appreciate that Secretary Hagel recognizes that these medical regulations are over 30 years old, are inconsistent with current medical practice, and negatively impact military readiness,” said retired Army Captain Allyson Robinson, SPART*A’s policy director, in a statement. "We look forward to a prompt and comprehensive medical review of these regulations, which is long overdue."
The National Center for Transgender Equality also responded to Hagel’s comments.
“If the secretary were able to meet and talk with the trans service members I’ve met, he’d understand the answer is self-evident,” NCTE executive director Mara Keisling said in a statement. “These are amazing people who serve even though they must hide a basic part of who they are.”