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Pentagon set to allow openly transgender soldiers

The Pentagon is expected to announce that transgender individuals can openly serve in the military. Military officials have asked for more time to work out the details. 

Gary Cameron/ Reuters
U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus (L) is applauded by the Secretary of the Army, Eric Fanning (2nd L), at the Pentagon's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride month ceremony at the Pentagon, U.S., June 8, 2016. Fanning is the highest ranking openly gay member in the Department of Defense. The Pentagon is expected to announce new rules allowing transgender individuals to openly serve in the military.

The Pentagon is expected to announce new regulations allowing transgender individuals to serve openly in the US military, despite fears from military officials that there has not been enough time to figure out the specifics of the plan. 

Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced last year that the policy would be changing, as the military pushes for more inclusivity and diversity in its ranks. In December, Mr. Carter announced that the Pentagon would open all combat positions to women; in 2011, "Don't ask, don't tell" was repealed, ending a ban on gay men and women openly serving in the military. The transgender ban has been one of the last remaining bans in the armed services. 

Although many military chiefs have supported lifting the transgender ban, officials have expressed concerns over its timeline, saying they worried that 45 days to develop an implementation plan, and another 45 to enact it, was too quick. Army chief of staff Mark Milley and commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller, for example, are not opposed to the new rules, but believe the plan requires more details to help commanders make decisions, defense officials told the Associated Press. 

Carter has agreed to extend the timeline by an additional 45 days, the AP reported. 

Under the new policies, expected to be announced this week, transgender individuals can openly enlist in the military. Those already enlisted cannot be forced out on account of their gender identity. Individuals diagnosed with gender dysphoria must first have a doctor certify that they have been "clinically stable" in their preferred gender for 18 months, while individuals receiving hormone therapy must have been stable on medication for 18 months. 

The move comes after years of efforts by transgender rights activists to make the change. A panel led by former surgeon general Jocelyn Elders found that there was "no compelling medical reason" for the ban, which the panel said was "an expensive, damaging and unfair barrier to health care access." The panel estimated there were around 15,450 transgender personnel in the active, Guard, and reserve components of the military at the time they released their findings in 2014.

Officials say the new rules are intentionally meant to give commanders flexibility to adapt to individual soldiers' circumstances. Commanders will be able to make case-by-case decisions about job placement, deployment, and training timelines based on their companies' needs and the soldiers' abilities. 

Once transgender soldiers have transitioned into their preferred gender identity, they will be allowed to use corresponding bathrooms, housing, and uniforms, and fitness tests. Transgender civilians, however, often choose to live as their preferred gender during the transition period; transgender soldiers in transition will be allowed to do so when off-duty. 

The changes are likely to affect several thousand transgender individuals already serving in the military, based on previous estimates.

The army's change reflects a societal shift on transgender rights in recent years, often supported by the White House, as The Christian Science Monitor reported in May:

Mr. Obama is, presidential historians say, pushing for a tipping point on a new frontier of civil rights. And as it did during other civil rights eras, the bathroom has become the gauntlet.

“There’s a sense that, for Obama, one of the larger meanings of the American experience is the expansion of rights to those groups that have been excluded,” says Bruce Miroff, a presidential historian at the State University of New York in Albany. “But there’s also a sense of political timing here, that transgender rights are becoming … a kind of natural follow-on to the struggle over same-sex marriage.”

In May, the Department of Education and Justice Department sent a "guiding letter" to schools telling them that it is illegal to bar transgender people from using the bathroom of their choice. 

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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