As the Pentagon prepares to lift its longstanding ban on transgender people in the military, records reveal the Obama administration’s secretary of defense barely knows anything about the issue.
The Department of Defense is expected to announce this week that transgender people can serve in the military, and the new policy will take effect within six months. Defense Secretary Ash Carter personally asked his top people to set up a working group on the issue.
But when Carter was asked about transgender troops just months ago in February at a troop event in Kandahar, Afghanistan, he readily admitted that he has not studied the issue.
“Quick question for you: What are your thoughts on transgender service members serving in an austere environment like this here in Kandahar?” asked Lt. Cdr. Jesse Ehrenfeld, according to a transcript of the question-and-answer segment.
Carter was befuddled, referring to people’s “personal lives and proclivities” to refer to gender, which is a big progressive no-no.
“I come at that from a fundamental starting point,” Carter admitted. “It’s not something I’ve studied a lot since I became secretary of defense. But I come at this kind of question from a fundamental starting point, which is that 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. Are they going to be excellent service members? And I don’t think anything but their suitability for service should preclude them.”
Why did Carter need to come at the issue from a “fundamental starting point”?
President Obama and former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel opened the door to the possibility of lifting the ban, and Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James kicked things off by taking a progressive stance on the issue back in December and revealed that the issue would be “coming under review” in the near future.
Transgender community research suggests that there might be more than 15,000 transgender people in the military currently. The Defense Department has previously argued, in response to lawsuits challenging the policy of throwing transgender people out of the armed forces, that transgender people’s medical needs hurt military readiness.
Just last month, the Defense Department formally celebrated the seventh edition of President Obama’s administration-wide LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) Pride Month. Transgender people represent the “T” in that acronym.