In less than a year, LGBT troops will have no barriers to serving openly in the U.S. military.
The Pentagon is expected to announce later this week that the armed services will have six months to figure out the logistics of how to incorporate transgender troops into the military, NBC News reported Monday, ending a longstanding – and, many argue, outdated – ban on “transsexualism, exhibitionism, transvestism, voyeurism and other paraphilias.” Because of that policy, tens of thousands of transgender troops have been forced to keep their gender identities a secret, or risk being discharged.
The announcement comes four years after President Obama signed the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” – the military’s former ban on gay and lesbian servicemembers. But lingering Pentagon regulations have left over 15,000 transgender troops – the number currently serving in the military, according to the Palm Center – still living in fear.
The administration has long hinted it would end the military’s ban on transgender servicemembers, which – unlike “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” – is not a statutory bar. That means that changing the policy would require only the direction of the president and the secretary of defense, not Congress.
Last year, former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said he was open to reviewing the transgender ban. Then in February, Hagel’s successor – Defense Secretary Ash Carter – said transgender people should not be precluded from service based on their gender identities alone.
“I don’t think anything but their suitability for service should preclude them,” Carter said during a question-and-answer session with troops in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
During a Pentagon Pride Month event last month, Carter again gave LGBT advocates reason to be hopeful.
“We believe in getting to a place where no one serves in silence, and where we treat all our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines with the dignity, and the respect, that they deserve,” he said.
The change in policy caps off several years of remarkable advancements for LGBT equality – both witnessed, and propelled by the Obama administration. Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a landmark ruling that made marriage equality legal nationwide. That ruling also lifted the final roadblocks same-sex couples faced in receiving federal spousal benefits, some of which hinged on where the couple lived; not where the couple was married. The Department of Veterans Affairs was one such agency that could not offer guaranteed home loans, survivor benefits, and burial rights – among other benefits – to same-sex couples living in states that did not recognize their unions.