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Pentagon finalizing plan to lift ban on transgender individuals in military

07/13/2015 02:15 EDT | Updated 07/13/2016 05:59 EDT
WASHINGTON - Pentagon leaders are finalizing plans aimed at lifting the ban on transgender individuals in the military, with the goal of formally ending one of the last gender- or sexuality-based barriers to military service, senior U.S. officials told The Associated Press.

An announcement is expected this week, and the services would have six months to assess the impact of the change and work out the details, the officials said Monday. Military chiefs wanted time to methodically work through the legal, medical and administrative issues and develop training to ease any transition, and senior leaders believed six months would be sufficient.

During that time, transgender individuals would still not be able to join the military, but any decisions to force out those already serving would be referred to the Pentagon's acting undersecretary for personnel, the officials said. One senior official said the goal was to avoid forcing any transgender service members to leave during that time.

Several officials familiar with the planning spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk about the issue publicly before the final details have been worked out.

The officials said Defence Secretary Ash Carter has asked his personnel undersecretary, Brad Carson, to set up a working group of senior military and civilian leaders to take an objective look at the issue, identify any problems and develop uniform guidelines.

One senior official said that while the goal is to lift the ban, Carter wants the working group to look at the practical effects, including the costs and what impact, if any, it would have on military readiness.

The move follows several weeks of high level meetings in the Pentagon among top ranking military chiefs, secretaries and Defence Department leaders, including one on Monday involving Carter and the chiefs of the various services.

Transgender people — those who identify with a different gender than they were born with and sometimes take hormone treatments or have surgery to develop the physical characteristics of their preferred gender — are banned from military service. But studies and other surveys have estimated that as many as 15,000 transgender people serve in the active duty military and the reserves, often in secret but in many cases with the knowledge of their unit commander or peers.

Military leaders have pointed to the gradual — and ultimately successful — transition after the ban on gays serving openly in the military was lifted in 2011. Although legislation repealing that ban passed Congress in late 2010, the military services spent months conducting training and reviews before the decision actually took effect the following September.

Early last month, during a ceremony at the department's Pentagon Pride Month, Carter noted the repeal of the ban. In remarks that hinted at more, he added, "we believe in getting to a place where no one serves in silence, and where we treat all our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines with the dignity, and the respect, that they deserve."

The move comes just weeks after the Supreme Court upheld the right of same-sex couples to marry.

Officials familiar with the Pentagon meetings said the chiefs of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force did not express opposition to lifting the ban. Instead, they said the military leaders asked for time to figure out health care, housing and other questions and also to provide information and training to the troops to insure a smooth transition.

In recent weeks, Carson met individually with each service chief and other senior civilian leaders.

Officials said Carter has sought input from the military on the effect of the policy change, but removing that barrier has been one of his goals since his early days in office. During a visit to Afghanistan shortly after he took over, Carter told troops that he was open-minded when asked whether the Defence Department was planning to remove the ban.

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