New Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on Sunday signaled that he is open to transgender people serving in the military, saying their sexual identity should not “preclude” them from contributing to the armed services.
“[W]e want to make our conditions and experience of service as attractive as possible to our best people in our country. And I'm very open-minded about — otherwise about what their personal lives and proclivities are, provided they can do what we need them to do for us. That’s the important criteria," Carter said during a town-hall event in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
“I don't think anything but their suitability for service should preclude them,” he added.
While the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was repealed in 2011, allowing openly gay people to serve, there is still a ban that prohibits transgender people from serving in uniform.
Groups that support ending the transgender ban lauded Carter’s comments.
The Pentagon chief is “right in that their ability to serve is the only thing that should matter,” Ashley Broadway-Mack, president of the American Military Partner Association, said in a statement.
“Thousands of transgender service members are currently doing the job, and doing it well, but are forced to do so in silence — forced to lie about something as fundamental as who they are in order to continue to serve,” she added.
“The answer to this question, based on the experiences of 15,500 transgender troops who are already serving, as well as academic research, is an unqualified yes,” Aaron Belkin, director of the gay rights organization the Palm Center, said in a statement.
In December, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James urged the Obama administration to end DOD’s ban on transgender troops.