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Pentagon Weighs Allowing Transgender People To Serve Openly In Military

The Pentagon is examining the implications of allowing transgender people to openly serve in the military, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said today.

"At a time when our troops have learned from experience that the most important qualification for service members should be whether they're able and willing to do their job, our officers and enlisted personnel are faced with certain rules that tell them the opposite," Carter said in a statement. "Moreover, we have transgender soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines — real, patriotic Americans — who I know are being hurt by an outdated, confusing, inconsistent approach that's contrary to our value of service and individual merit."

A Defense Department working group will over the next six months study the policy and readiness implications of the move. The panel will start with the presumption that transgender people can serve openly without adverse impact on military effectiveness and readiness, Carter said, "unless and except where objective, practical impediments are identified."

Carter also directed that administrative discharges for those diagnosed with gender dysphoria or who identify themselves as transgender be sent to Brad Carson, acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness. Carson will also lead the working group.

The New York Times adds:

"Some estimates put the number of transgender people in the military at 15,000. Yet much like gays and lesbians under the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy, which was lifted in 2011, the current rules have forced transgender people into a precarious existence in the ranks. The lucky ones have superiors who look the other way; the less fortunate must keep their transgender status a secret, leaving themselves open to harassment or expulsion if their colleagues found out the truth."

Although the military has a ban on transgender personnel, some transgender service members have come out publicly.

One of them, Staff Sgt. Patricia King, enlisted in the Army in 1999 under her birth name, Peter. But as we noted last month, "At the beginning of this year, King — a decorated soldier with three deployments to Afghanistan under her belt — started her gender transition."

King told NPR's Arun Rath that the support she received "has been absolutely amazing."

"You start by telling people that you are reasonably sure are going to be accepting, and from there you move to the people that you question. And after that, you just kind of come out, and you just accept that you have a big enough support network that I can be myself. I've been embraced by commanders who've said, 'We support you and we're proud of you, and we want you to be who you are. Unfortunately the rules say this.' "

Several lawmakers have also pushed for the military rules on transgender service members to be rewritten.

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