Military lifts transgender ban

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced Thursday that the U.S. was lifting the ban on transgender people serving in the military.

“Starting today, otherwise qualified service members can no longer be in voluntarily separated discharged or denied reenlistment or continuation of service just for being transgender,” Carter said at the Pentagon. “I'm 100 percent confident in the ability of our military leaders and all our men and women in uniform to implement these changes in a manner that both protects the readiness of the force, and also upholds values cherished by the military: honor, trust, and judging every individual on their merits.”

Carter signaled last year he intended to lift the ban, building on a slow evolution in the U.S. armed forces. The “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that prohibited gays and lesbians from serving in the military was lifted in 2011 and Carter opened combat positions to women last year.

The defense secretary said that implementation of the new policy will take place over the next 12 months and will include guidance for current service members and commanders, and training for the entire force. The military will then open its doors to new transgender service members who have been stable in their identified gender for at least 18 months.

“I want to emphasize that in this case, as in the department's decisions on ‘don't ask, don't tell,’ and women in service, simply declaring a change in policy is not effective implementation,” Carter said. “That's why we have worked hard on the implementation plan and must continue to do so.”

Carter confirmed that if a military doctors determine that sex-change survey is medically necessary for a current service member, the U.S. military will pay for it. According to a study commissioned by Carter to examine the policy surrounding transgender people in the military, about 65 people each year would seek to transition their gender.

Carter said that within 90 days, the Defense Department will issue a guidebook for commanders on leading currently serving transgender members as well as give medical guidance to doctors for “providing transition-related care, if required, to currently-serving transgender service members.”

“Our military treatment facilities will begin providing transgender service members with all medically necessary care, based on that medical guidance,” Carter said. “Also starting on that date, service members will be able to initiate the process to officially change their gender in our personnel management systems.”