Secretary of Defense Ash Carter officially ended the ban on transgenders serving openly in the military Thursday at a Pentagon press conference.
Slightly more than a year ago, Carter promised an end to outdated regulations banning transgenders from open service. Since he made that promise, the services elevated discharge authority to their highest levels to ensure that no transgenders would be drummed out of the service before the Pentagon had time to reverse existing policy.
“This is the right thing to do for our people and for the force,” Carter said at the press conference. “We’re talking about talented Americans who are serving with distinction or who want the opportunity to serve. We can’t allow barriers unrelated to a person’s qualifications prevent us from recruiting and retaining those who can best accomplish the mission.”
A group advocating for sexual minority rights in the military, the American Military Partner Association, lauded the decision as a major step forward.
“Words cannot express how much this announcement means to so many of our transgender service members and their families — brave men and women who have proudly served our nation in silence for far too long,” American Military Partner Association President Ashley Broadway-Mack said in a statement. “We are incredibly grateful to Secretary Carter for bringing this promise to fruition. While we still have progress to make, today is truly historic and our military families will be stronger as a result of these critically important and long overdue changes.”
Service member Nick Melvin, who counts himself as a transgender, said he is now able to serve openly while stationed in Hawaii.
“This historic change means that I can finally serve openly and proudly as who I am — a soldier who loves my country and just happens to be transgender,” Melvin said. “A huge weight has been lifted off of my shoulder. I can continue serving my nation and support my family, which means the world!”
Meanwhile, numerous high-level military officials either oppose the policy, or otherwise wanted more time to properly integrate transgenders. According to a report from The Associated Press, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Neller also wished for additional time, pointing to the plan to repeal don’t ask, don’t tell as a good model to follow.
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