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Carter getting pushback from military leaders over easing ban on transgender service members

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter

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Carter, who became Pentagon chief just five weeks ago, told troops in Afghanistan last month that the key question should be “are they going to be excellent service members? And I don’t think anything but their suitability for service should preclude them.”

What he didn’t know at the time was that one of the troops in attendance was a transgender individual who is serving with the full knowledge of that person’s commander.

People familiar with the event would not identify the transgender service member or say if that person met or had a photograph taken with the secretary, saying it could put the person’s job in jeopardy.

That transgender service member lives in barracks for that person’s chosen gender identity, not the one listed on the troop’s identification card, said Allyson Robinson, policy director for an association of LGBT military personnel called Service members, Partners, and Allies for Respect and Tolerance for All, or SPARTA.

Robinson said the person is “acknowledged as one of the top performers in the unit,” and is known to be a transgender individual by others in the unit.

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The transgender issue came to the fore as the military struggled with how to deal with convicted national security leaker Chelsea Manning’s request for hormone therapy and other treatment for her gender dysphoria while she’s in prison.

Manning, arrested as Bradley Manning, is the first transgender military prisoner to request such treatment, and the Army recently approved the hormone therapy, under pressure from a lawsuit.

Manning, like other service members discovered to be transgender, would have been discharged, but she first has to finish serving her 35-year sentence at the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

While there are no separate, formal Defense Department studies on the transgender question, there is an ongoing review that looks at the broader issue of Defense Department standards for enlistment, which includes a 40-page list of medical conditions that preclude service.

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