The service chiefs are seeking a delay in trans military enlistments. Public domain photo by Master Sgt. Ken Hammond

Military Chiefs Seek 6-month Delay in Transgender Enlistments

BY CHRIS JOHNSON, WASHINGTON BLADE

The military service chiefs are seeking a delay in implementation of a policy allowing openly transgender people to enlist in the U.S. military, the Associated Press reported Friday.

Laura Ochoa, a defense spokesperson, responded to the report by denying Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work has made a recommendation on the issue, suggesting the situation remains in flux.

"The Deputy Secretary of Defense has not provided a formal recommendation to the Secretary of Defense, therefore no decision has been made and there is no update to the current review," Ochoa said.

The brief AP report doesn't name which of the service chiefs are seeking the delay or ascribe any motivation, but is consistent with earlier media reports that top defense officials were seeking more time to implement the final stage of openly transgender military service. It could be a signal that the anti-trans policy could remain in place as a result of the Trump administration.

LGBT rights supporters backing transgender military service were initially reluctant to comment on reports service chiefs wanted to hold off on enlistments, but in the aftermath of the AP report issued fiery statements in opposition to dragging out implementation.

Aaron Belkin, director of the San Francisco-based Palm Center, highlighting the Army's expenditure of $300 million to recruit 6,000 soldiers each year as he condemned the reported request for delay.

"A s ix-month delay of the last piece of inclusive policy, the repeal of the enlistment ban, will only produce redundant evidence about the contributions of transgender service members," Belkin said. "Indeed, the chiefs who are demanding ongoing delay are not bringing any new arguments or new data to the table, but are recycling long-discredited concerns whose only basis is emotion and politics, not data. It is particularly remarkable, as the Army spends an additional $300 million to recruit 6,000 Soldiers this year, that it would seek to turn away Americans who are fit and eager to serve."

Former Defense Secretary Ashton Carter lifted the ban on openly transgender military service under the Obama administration last year, but left certain pieces of the prohibition in place as the military adjusted to the change. While transgender people already in the military could at that time come out without fear of discharge, the enlistment of new openly transgender people was set to begin July 1.

With that date approaching, the reports the military service chiefs are seeking a six-month delay in allowing openly transgender people spells trouble -- especially for cadets who graduated from military academies, but were denied access to service and continue to wait for a change in policy. A delay could be the first step in additional delays to come, kicking the can down the road indeterminably for fully open transgender service.

Stephen Peters, a Marine veteran discharged under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the Human Rights Campaign's national press secretary, said the reported request for a delay "harms our military readiness" and called on Defense Secretary Gen. James Mattis to implement the change on schedule.

"There are thousands of transgender service members openly and proudly serving our nation today, and as they've proven time and time again, what matters is the ability to get the job done -- not their gender identity," Peters said. "We're disappointed that a further delay is under consideration and urge Secretary Mattis to move forward expeditiously in implementing this recruitment policy which will strengthen our forces by allowing anyone who is qualified and willing to serve our nation."

The joint chiefs of staff consist of Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson, Air Force Chief of Staff David Goldfein and Chief of the National Guard Bureau Gen. Joseph Lengyel. Overseeing them is Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford and Vice Chair Gen. Paul Selva.

Earlier this month, the Military Times reported that top brass wanted to delay openly transgender enlistments in the U.S. military, which was followed by a USA Today report that the U.S. Army and Marine Corps wanted a delay of up to two years to implement the policy.

During the Pride celebration at the Pentagon earlier this month, acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel & Readiness Anthony Kurta declined to comment when the Blade asked him if the plan to allow transgender troops to enter the U.S. military was still on track.

"We're here today to recognize this event and I don't think it's appropriate for me to comment," Kurta said.

Ashley Broadway-Mack, president of the American Military Partner Association, said the reported request for a delay "is disappointing because it's such an incredibly important recruitment change."

"Secretary Mattis has made clear he believes there is a need to increase troop levels, and any qualified American who is willing and able to serve should have the opportunity to join the ranks, regardless of their gender identity," Broadway-Mack said. "We urge Secretary Mattis to reject further delays and move quickly in implementing this important recruitment policy."

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. This article originally appeared in the Washington Blade and is made available in partnership with the National Gay Media Association.
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