Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter has taken an important step toward repealing the Pentagon’s ban on open service by transgender troops, a discriminatory policy that has cut short the careers of talented service members and forced thousands to serve in silence.
The Pentagon is making this move nearly four years after it began allowing gay and lesbian service members to serve openly. Critics had long warned that changing that policy would weaken the armed forces and hurt morale. In fact, it has strengthened the military, just as integrating openly transgender troops will expand the talent pool of those willing to serve.
Mr. Carter announced on Monday that he has asked a group of senior Pentagon officials, led by Brad Carson, the Defense Department’s acting under secretary for personnel and readiness, to study the type of guidelines and regulations needed to carry out the new policy. Once that work is completed over the next six months, officials expect that transgender people will no longer be barred from joining the military.
“We must ensure that everyone who’s able and willing to serve has the full and equal opportunity to do so,” Mr. Carter said in a statement. He instructed the team to “start with the presumption that transgender persons can serve openly without adverse impact on military effectiveness and readiness.” While the study is underway, it is highly unlikely that the Pentagon will discharge any service members for being transgender, because Mr. Carson’s office will have to approve any expulsion.
The working group will cover routine paperwork questions, like name and gender changes on personnel records, as well as more substantial issues, including medical coverage for transgender troops who transition. Officials will need to figure out how to handle cases involving transgender service members who are in occupations that are open only to men.
None of this should be hard to carry out. Several of America’s closest allies have seamlessly integrated openly transgender troops in their militaries. Any doubts about their ability to serve should have been put to rest by the exemplary records of those who have begun transitioning publicly in recent months. Their powerful stories commanded the attention of senior leaders at the Pentagon.
“For both the secretary and for Brad, the personal stories have been moving ones,” a senior defense official said. “They have helped shape what is otherwise an abstract concept.”
In recent months, several lawmakers have also begun to press the Pentagon to allow open transgender service. And so far, there has been no public opposition to integrating transgender troops.
“The brave men and women who serve in our military should not be excluded from the rights and freedoms that they risk their lives to protect,” Representative Adam Smith, of Washington, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement on Monday. “It’s that simple.”
Mr. Carter is wise to end a policy that denigrates transgender Americans and damages national security by forcing out good troops the military needs.
“Young Americans today are more diverse, open and tolerant than past generations,” Mr. Carter said last month. “And if we’re going to attract the best and brightest among them to contribute to our mission of national defense, we have to ourselves be more open, diverse and tolerant, too.”