James’s remarks suggest that momentum is once again building for the military to do away with its transgender ban, which remains in place even though gays have been permitted to serve openly since 2011. Outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and White House officials had expressed an openness to reconsidering the policy earlier this year, but many advocates said progress within the Pentagon appeared to stall this fall.
The Williams Institute, a think tank that studies the gay community, estimates that there are 15,500 transgender members of the military. Over the past two years, advocates say about two dozen people have been dismissed for being transgender. At the same time, many military members say they have noticed a greater openness within their ranks, with some transgender people serving with the knowledge of their peers, superiors and doctors.
In the interview, James said the policy is “likely to come under review in the next year or so. So I think we should stand by, and times change, and we’ll just have to see what happens there.”