In a historic decision, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced Thursday that the Pentagon is lifting its discriminatory ban on transgender people serving openly in the United States military. The lifting of the ban went into effect immediately and impacts the estimated 15,500 transgender people who are currently serving in the US military and who, until now, have been forced to hide their true gender identities for fear of being discharged.
Objectors to lifting the ban argue that allowing transgender people to serve openly will hurt unit cohesion, decrease readiness for combat, and create large healthcare costs for gender reassignment surgery. However, a recent survey commissioned by the Defense Secretary showed that repealing the ban will be inexpensive and have minimal negative consequences. Similar objections were made to the 2011 repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, which prohibited openly gay people from military service, of which the negative effects were very few.
Countless transgender Americans have already served in the U.S. military. The most well-known of these is former Navy SEAL Kristen Beck, who came out as transgender and underwent gender reassignment surgery after serving as a member of the elite SEAL Team Six.
The Pentagon’s announcement comes in the wake of several groundbreaking decisions by Secretary Carter who has opened all military combat roles to women and appointed Eric Fanning, the first openly gay head of any branch of the military, to be Secretary of the Army. Secretary Carter discussed the decision’s potential to strengthen the country’s armed forces by attracting the best and most qualified service members, but also emphasized that it was “a matter of principle.”
According to recent studies, the transgender population in the United States accounts for approximately 1.4 million people, double the number from previous estimates. The transgender community faces frequent discrimination in healthcare, housing, the workplace, and elsewhere. For example, just this year, North Carolina signed into law a highly controversial bill that prohibits transgender individuals from using the bathroom of their choice; nearly 50 percent of transgender people have been victims of sexually based violence; and transgender men and women have significantly higher rates of depression and suicide than the general population.