U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced Thursday that transgender men and women will now be allowed to serve openly in the military.
“This is the right thing to do for our people and for the force,” Carter said in announcing the policy change. “We’re talking about talented Americans who are serving with distinction or who want the opportunity to serve. We can’t allow barriers unrelated to a person’s qualifications prevent us from recruiting and retaining those who can best accomplish the mission.”
The Department of Defense set an October deadline for implementing the change, at which point it will circulate a training handbook and medical guidance for changing a service member’s gender in the Defense Eligibility Enrollment System. The agency will also put services in place to address the care and treatment of transgender individuals in the military.
The policy change also means that current transgender service members will have access to gender transition services as prescribed by a military physician. Any transgender individuals intending to enter the military, however, will be required to have previously completed any medical treatment and have been stable in their preferred gender for 18 months.
LGBTQ activists praised the decision.
“Transgender women and men deserve to have the same opportunities as their peers to serve in the armed forces, and to have their courageous service rewarded with the same dignity, pride, and honor,” said M. Dru Levasseur, Transgender Rights Project director.
By some estimates, there may be as many as 15,500 active duty military or National Guard or Reserves members who are transgender.
Some see the change as stemming from the department’s decision in December to open combat roles to women.
“This decision flows pretty naturally from the decision to open combat positions to women,” Don Haider-Markel, professor and chair of the political science department at the University of Kansas, told NBC News. “There are a variety of logistical issues to resolve, but as with the decisions on women, gays, and lesbians, the biggest hindrance to implementation is misinformation and outright discrimination.”
Eighteen other countries — including the U.K. and Israel — already allow transgender men and women to serve in the military.