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Ban on transgender servicemembers to be repealed by July

Army Sgt. Shane Ortega shaves at home at Wheeler Army Airfield in Wahiawa, Hawaii. Ortega, a transgender man who was forced to buy a women's dress uniform for a meeting about transgender policy issues, says that the level of discrimination and ignorance in the military about transgender people is huge.

KENT NISHIMURA/THE WASHINGTON POST

By DAN LAMOTHE | The Washington Post | Published: June 24, 2016

WASHINGTON — The Defense Department is expected to repeal its ban on transgender service members within weeks, Pentagon officials said Friday, putting to rest a long and complicated debate that has stretched out for a year.

Specifics of the repeal are still under review, but the expectation among officials working on the issue is that the announcement will come by the end of next month, and possibly sooner, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal Pentagon deliberations.

"Nothing has been set in stone on this," one official said on when the repeal will happen. The expectation, however, is that it could occur as soon as next week. USA Today reported Friday that the repeal will take place July 1.

The decision will put to rest a year of deliberations and mounting frustration among advocates for the ban's repeal. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said last July that he was establishing a working group to research transgender military service and gave it six months to carry out its mission, but the process has dragged out for close to a year.

The Pentagon's existing policy considers transgender people to be sexual deviants, allowing the military to discharge them. The services -- and later, Carter -- decided last year to move that discharge authority to higher levels in the military, making it more difficult to force out transgender troops. But the lack of a new policy has created complicated situations for them and their commanders, including what to do with gender-specific uniforms, grooming rules and bathroom usage.

In May, the Pentagon's new acting Pentagon personnel chief, Peter Levine, said that it would likely take "months, but not large numbers of months" more to finalize details. He acknowledged then that there was a lack of consensus on how to proceed and said that "obviously there are different views" from service officials.

"We're going to work through that . . . and we're going to do it expeditiously so that we can do it in this administration," Levine said. "But it's important that we not only do it, but do it right."

Carter addressed the issue May 12 at the Air Force Academy and said he expected the working group to wrap up soon. But he drew the ire of some favoring a repeal of the ban by saying the issue was "complicated," even while predicting a change was coming.

"I'm confident we're going to get to the right place in this, as in so many other things we have to work through," Carter said at the time. "What you have to keep in mind is it's the. . . the quality and readiness of the force that matters. That's the goal, so keep that in front of us."

News of the decision was quickly praised Friday by transgender service members and groups supporting the ban's repeal. Air Force Staff Sgt. Logan Ireland, a transgender airman, said Friday that he and his fellow transgender service members do not want to be granted exceptions to existing policy and want to abide by the same rules as everyone else in the military.

"We don't want any gray areas," he said on what should be allowed. "Just afford us the same opportunities as the genders we wish to be seen."

Aaron Belkin, who has worked with the Pentagon on the issue as director of the Palm Center, said in a statement that it is "heartening" to hear that the Defense Department appears poised to lift the ban.

"If that day arrives, successful implementation will depend on whether leadership sends clear signals of support, and whether new policy follows medical consensus and applies the same rules to everyone."​

Ashley Broadway-Mack, the president of the American Military Partner Association, which represents lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender families, said that transgender service members and their families are now "breathing a huge sigh of relief."

"We are eagerly anticipating the details of this historic announcement, and we are incredibly grateful for the leadership Secretary Carter has shown in getting us to this critically important point for our military families," she said.
 

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