The Army on Friday announced that it was changing its process for dismissing transgender soldiers, a shift hailed by advocates as groundbreaking and historic.
But in a sign that there has not been a whole-scale change in the military’s treatment of transgender service members, the Army terminated a transgender soldier just hours before the change was announced.
In a directive issued Friday evening, the Army announced that dismissals of transgender soldiers must be approved by an assistant secretary of the Army, a senior-level official. Previously, such dismissals could be approved by lower-level officials.
An Army spokeswoman emphasized this was not a change in policy toward transgender people, who are barred from serving in the military. But transgender rights groups lauded the shift, saying it will make it harder for the military to kick out transgender service members. And they noted that a similar change took place months before the lifting of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the policy barring gays and lesbians from serving in the military openly.
“The new policy is welcome news for transgender soldiers and it hopefully is a sign that the Army is moving toward a comprehensive review of the current regulations,” said Joshua Block, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union. But he added that the overall policy still harms transgender service members.
It is the latest sign that the military is taking a hard look at its longstanding policy barring transgender service members. Late last month, new Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, during a town hall meeting in Kandahar, Afghanistan,.expressed an openness to permitting transgender people to openly serve in the military.
The military also agreed recently to provide hormone treatment to Chelsea Manning, an Army private convicted of leaking classified secrets. The Army Court of Criminal Appeals on Thursday ordered the military to stop using male pronouns when referring to Manning, who was previously known as Bradley Manning.
Some groups oppose lifting the policy barring transgender service on the grounds that it could hurt military cohesion and readiness. Transgender advocacy groups, however, say there is no basis for such fears. The possibility of a change in Army dismissal procedures was first reported by USA Today.
At least a dozen transgender service members have been dismissed from the military in the past six months, said Allyson Robinson, director for policy at SPARTA, a group that represents and advocates for current and former transgender service members.
Among them is Capt. Jacob Eleazer of the Kentucky Army National Guard, who got word of his termination Friday afternoon. Eleazer — who appeared in a front-page Washington Post story about transgender service members last year — joined the military as a woman but transitioned to male later. After a year of limbo, he was dismissed Friday morning. He plans to fight the order, he said, and is unsure of the impact of the change in dismissal procedures.
“It was a huge down and then a huge up, so I don’t know how to feel about it all,” he said.