Defense Secretary Ashton Carter: Transgender Americans should be allowed to serve openly in the military

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter speaks with U.S. military personnel at Kandahar airfield in Afghanistan on Feb. 22. Jonathan Ernst, AP

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter speaks with U.S. military personnel at Kandahar airfield in Afghanistan on Feb. 22. Jonathan Ernst, AP

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter speaks with U.S. military personnel at Kandahar airfield in Afghanistan on Feb. 22.

WASHINGTON — U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Sunday that transgender individuals should not be prevented from serving in the U.S. military solely based on their gender identity.

“I don’t think anything but their suitability for service should preclude them,” said Carter, who spoke during a town-hall meeting in Kandahar, part of a trip to Afghanistan, reports NBC News.

Carter, who was sworn in as defense secretary last Tuesday, was responding to a question from Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jesse M. Ehrenfeld, a doctor, about transgender soldiers serving in an “austere environment” like the one in Kandahar.

“We want to make our conditions and experience of service as attractive as possible to our best people in our country. And I’m very open-minded about — otherwise about what their personal lives and proclivities are, provided they can do what we need them to do for us. That’s the important criteria,” Carter said. “I don’t think anything but their suitability for service should preclude them.”

The American Military Partner Association (AMPA), a nonprofit support network for LGBT families, welcomed Carter’s remarks, and urged him to order a review of “outdated regulations that prevent the estimated 15,500 transgender service members currently in uniform from serving openly and honestly.”

“Thousands of transgender service members are currently doing the job, and doing it well, but are forced to do so in silence,” AMPA president Ashley Broadway-Mack said in a statement.

On Monday, President Barak Obama endorsed Carter’s remarks, according to White House press secretary Josh Earnest.

“I can tell you that the president agrees with the sentiment that all Americans who are qualified to serve should be able to serve,” Earnest said. “And for that reason, we here at the White House welcome the comments from the secretary of Defense.”

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Last year, then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the prohibition on transgender individuals serving in the U.S. military “continually should be reviewed,” adding that “every qualified American who wants to serve our country should have an opportunity if they fit the qualifications and can do it.”

Last week, USA Today reported that the decision to discharge transgender soldiers from the U.S. Army would be made by a top, senior civilian official under a plan outlined in a draft document. That directive does not eliminate the rule that allows transgender soldiers to be discharged for their gender identity, but the proposal would make it more difficult to remove such troops from service.

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