DEFENSE SECRETARY Ashton B. Carter said last summer that the Pentagon would lift its ban on transgender people serving openly in the military pending a six-month review process. The process took one year. The repeal of the ban, which Mr. Carter finally announced Thursday, is even longer overdue.
For years, transgender troops have defended the country with dedication and dignity — but the military has not always shown them the same care. Estimates of the number of transgender service members range from as few as 2,500 troops on active duty and 1,500 in the reserves to 12,800 altogether. Many of these troops, afraid to reveal their gender identities for fear of being fired, have fought on the front lines but lived in the shadows. Some refrain from reporting health issues or sexual assaults while they serve to avoid discovery. Thursday’s repeal will give all troops the equal treatment they deserve.
Concerns around the change have centered, as they should, on readiness: Will allowing transgender individuals to serve openly jeopardize the country’s safety or the safety of other troops? Through the study commissioned last year, the Pentagon has concluded it will not.
The military has taken every precaution to guarantee transgender troops are prepared to fill the roles they take on. Before transgender people can enlist, for example, a doctor must certify them as having been stable in their new genders for 18 months. The military will also provide hormone therapy and other medical care to transgender service members on its payroll. The cost of these changes, the study found, will be comparatively low.
Even with the ban officially lifted, questions remain. It will take time to train unit commanders and medical personnel in how best to lead and care for transgender troops. The Defense Department has released guidance on how commanders can tackle one of the trickier issues at hand: what happens when a service member wants to transition while on active duty. Overall, though, the shift should be smooth. The military runs on rules and regimentation that make top-down change efficient and effective. There’s no reason to think the integration of transgender troops will prove an exception.
“We have to have access to 100 percent of America’s population for our all-volunteer forces to be able to recruit from among them the most highly qualified — and to retain them,” Mr. Carter said Thursday. He’s right: By all accounts, the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” six years ago built a stronger military. More likely than not, the Pentagon’s new policy will also strengthen our forces — and it will ensure transgender troops are treated with the same honor they have shown the country through their service.