Military Still Weighing Transgender Recruit Directive

by Tara Merrigan
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The deadline for the United States military to accept openly transgender recruits looms. According to an Obama-era mandate, the Pentagon must allow transgender people to enlist starting July 1. However, given the current administration's lack of public guidance on this issue and a reported push by conservatives to halt the directive's implementation, it remains unclear whether or not the military will accept transgender recruits come July.

In June 2016, when Obama appointee Ash Carter was secretary of Defense, the Pentagon lifted its ban on transgender men and women serving openly, allowing trans people who were currently serving to come out. The policy also stated that the military would have until July 1, 2017 to prepare for transgender enlistees, who could start joining the military on that date.

However, that prospect is beginning to dim as the July deadline draws near, because according to a report by the Military Times, the Pentagon is trying to form a case against allowing transgender people to serve. Pentagon spokesperson Army Lt. Col. Myles Caggins said that he wouldn't comment on the July 1 directive, but did say that there's been no change to the existing policy that allows transgender men and women to serve openly.

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Earlier last month, Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work issued a memo to service secretaries and chiefs asking how ready the armed forces were to start accepting transgender troops. “The personnel policies of this Department are designed to enhance the warfighting readiness and lethality of the force that protects our country,” Work wrote, according to USA Today. “We do not intend to reconsider prior decisions unless they cause readiness problems that could lessen our ability to fight, survive and win on the battlefield.”

A top official under Carter says that the memo could be seen as an attempt to rationalize not allowing new transgender enlistees. “This could be seen as an opportunity to reconsider the policy,” Brad Carson told USA Today. “It is certainly possible, and it would invite litigation. I do have full confidence in Jim Mattis to do the right thing here.”

The opposition to transgender people serving in the military has been bolstered in recent weeks by several retired generals and admirals, who signed a letter calling for Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to renege on the Obama-era mandate. The letter called it a "politically correct" policy, and suggested that including transgender people would weaken the military.

"Conservative leaders strongly support the principle of peace through strength and therefore the need for immediate action to return the priority of the Department of Defense to restoring America’s military readiness and ending costly and distracting social engineering," the open letter read.

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Another set of generals submitted an open letter calling for Mattis to allow trans men and women to enlist. “Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has stated that he will make personnel decisions based on evidence about what best promotes force readiness,” the generals wrote. “If he is serious about that commitment, he will maintain existing policy and make clear that there will be no return to the days of forcing capable applicants to lie in order to serve their country.” Mattis has yet to respond to either letter.

According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, some 100,000 veterans identify as transgender, and more than 15,000 trans men and women currently serve in the armed forces. Enabling trans men and women to serve openly allows them to receive medical treatment related to the transgender community's unique needs, such as gender affirmation surgery. While it remains unclear if new transgender soldiers will be allowed to fight for their country, at least the ones currently serving have been allowed to do so as themselves.