WASHINGTON » Senior military leaders expressed concern this week that the launch of new Pentagon rules allowing transgender service members to serve openly in the U.S. military is moving too quickly, arguing that details must still be resolved, several senior U.S. officials told The Associated Press.
The Pentagon plans to unveil the new regulations in the next day or two, almost a year after Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced his intention to end one of the last gender-based barriers to military service. A senior U.S. official said Carter met this week with his military leaders, heard their concerns, and has made some adjustments to the timeline.
Under the new policy, transgender individuals will be allowed to join the military, and those already serving can no longer be forced to leave based on their gender identity. Officials familiar with the plan said it states that military service should be open to anyone who can meet the rigorous standards, regardless of his or her gender identity.
Officials said the plan also says that people with gender dysphoria, a history of medical treatments associated with gender transition and those who have had reconstruction surgery may be disqualified as military recruits unless a medical provider certifies that they have been clinically stable in the preferred gender for 18 months, and are free of significant distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas. They also said transgender individuals receiving hormone therapy must have been stable on the medication for 18 months.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to talk about sensitive policy discussions before the decisions were made public.
The military service chiefs said during a private meeting this week they were concerned that they were being given 45 days to develop an implementation plan, and another 45 days to put it in place. They said that timeline wasn’t enough and asked Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to relay their concerns to Carter.
The senior U.S. official said Carter met with military leaders several times over the past two months, but after meetings this week, agreed to give them an additional 45 days, and was told that the military chiefs believe they can work within those guidelines.
The service chiefs had also recommended that the Pentagon set up a study panel and implement the policy in phases over the next year to ensure decisions were consistent across the services.
The officials said that the military leaders, including Gen. Mark Milley, the Army chief of staff, and Gen. Robert Neller, commandant of the Marine Corps, made it clear that they are not opposed to the policy change, but they believed it didn’t include enough specifics to guide commanders who will have to make decisions about people in their units.
Carter made it known last July that he intended to rescind the ban on transgender service members serving in the military, calling it outdated. He has long argued that the military must be more inclusive to bring in the best and brightest.
At the time he ordered a six-month study to include extensive medical and scientific research and discussions with other nations and companies with experience in the process. He later extended the study because the military wanted more time. Officials said he wanted to insure there was no impact on military readiness, but that over time he became frustrated with the slow progress.
Officials estimate there are likely several thousand transgender individuals serving in the military, and the policy provides broad guidelines for those service members.
For example, transgender troops will be able to use the bathrooms, housing, uniforms and fitness standards of their preferred gender only after they have legally transitioned to that identity, according to officials familiar with the decisions.
The new rules, however, note that transitions are all unique. So they give commanders flexibility, allowing them to make some decisions on a case-by-case basis, including for job placement, deployments and training delays, based on the needs of the military mission and whether the service member can perform their duty. That flexibility includes the ability to waive or reduce the 18-month time frame, if warranted.
The policy also allows commanders to approve certain accommodations when possible, such as when troops are showering. That could include installing shower curtains, towel hooks or allowing transgender troops to shower at different times or wear minimal clothing.
The military policy differs from civilian gender transitions, where transgender individuals often dress, live socially and work fulltime in their preferred gender during the process. Under the new policy, service members would only be able to do that when off-duty and away from their duty station.