The second-highest-ranking military officer in the country said Tuesday that a delay in allowing transgender recruits to enlist in the military was largely due to a “disagreement on the science.”
“I am an advocate of every qualified person who can meet the physical standards to serve in our uniformed services to be able to do so,” Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Gen. Paul Selva said.
“Our decision to delay the accessions of transgender individuals into the services was largely based on a disagreement on the science of how mental healthcare and hormone therapy for transgender individuals would help solve the medical issues that are associated with gender dysphoria.”
Selva, who was testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee to be reconfirmed as vice chairman, was responding to a question from Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Connected Commerce Council - Biden faces reporters as his agenda teeters Former aide says she felt 'abandoned' by Democrats who advanced Garcetti nomination as ambassador to India Schumer vows to push forward with filibuster change: 'The fight is not over' MORE (D-N.Y.), who expressed concern that the delay would have “unintended consequences.”
Transgender troops have been able to serve openly since last year, when then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter lifted the ban. Carter, though, kept the ban on transgender recruits pending the end of a one-year implementation period.
Under that timeline, transgender recruits were supposed to be able to enlist starting at the beginning of this month.
But the night before the change was to go into effect, Defense Secretary James Mattis issued a six-month delay in the policy to study the issue more.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Selva said the delay will allow service chiefs more time to craft policies on how to handle training and physical fitness standards for transgender recruits who are presenting as their gender identity but have not had surgery.
Those issues will “have to be dealt with” before the Pentagon moves forward with its transgender enlistment policy, Selva said.
“There are a host of other issues that involve the potential physical standards, and the service chiefs asked for additional time to assess so that they can make their necessary changes to infrastructure, as well as training curriculum for our basic trainees who come in in transgender status,” Selva said, “particularly those who have not undergone gender reassignment surgery and while they present as their target gender are physiologically still in their birth gender.”
LGBT groups shot back almost immediately Tuesday that there is no dispute on the science of being transgender.
"The chiefs are misrepresenting the science about transgender troops in a disingenuous way that reflects the old Pentagon tactic of distorting the data about gays and lesbians under 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,'" Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, said in a statement, referring to the old policy that banned gays and lesbians from military service. "There is no scientific dispute. Rather, there is a global medical consensus, including the American Medical Association and the Rand Corporation, that transition-related care is reliable, safe and effective."
— Updated at 12:08 p.m.