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Deadline looming for military to start accepting transgender recruits

By JEANETTE STEELE | The San Diego Union-Tribune | Published: June 7, 2017

SAN DIEGO (Tribune News Service) — Conservative activists are calling for Defense Secretary James Mattis to reverse policy on transgender people in the U.S. military.

Mattis is facing a decision about whether to open the door to transgender recruits and new officers.

Policy set during the Obama administration established a July 1 deadline for the services to get ready to accept newcomers who are transgender.

Under former Defense Secretary Ash Carter, the Pentagon in June 2016 lifted the ban on transgender troops who were already serving.

But conservatives said Mattis isn’t bound by the July 1 deadline and called on him to end what they termed “politically correct social agendas” in the military — including LGBT Pride activities in June.

A public memo from the Conservative Action Project, signed by retired military generals and admirals and dozens of other prominent conservatives, calls for Mattis to end transgender military service altogether.

“The most problematic policies in this category are those addressing the presence of transgender individuals in the military,” the Conservative Action Project wrote in the May 16 memo.

Between 6,000 and 14,000 transgender people are currently serving in uniform, out of a total of 1.3 million active-duty troops. Estimates are sparse on how many are waiting to join the armed forces, but it could be hundreds per year, one expert said.

USA Today has reported that two transgender cadets — one at the Air Force Academy and one at West Point — were allowed to graduate in May but have been denied an officer’s commission due to the Pentagon’s policy being unresolved.

On Tuesday, the Center for Military Readiness sent out an email asking if it was a “firing offense” for a Pentagon undersecretary who issued a memo Friday announcing and endorsing Pride month activities.

The center’s memo noted — as have some news stories — that President Donald Trump did not issue a Pride Month proclamation, unlike his predecessor.

“Do holdover officials in positions such as this have authority to implement or celebrate the previous administration’s policies, even if President Trump has not authorized them?” Elaine Donnelly, the center’s president, asked in her email.

“If this is not a firing offense, are President Obama and Ashton Carter still making policy at the Pentagon?” she concluded.

As for the Pentagon’s plan on how to proceed on the transgender question, a spokesman said Mattis has directed the services to “assess their readiness to access transgender applicants” into the military.

“The assessment is narrowly focused on readiness to access transgender applicants, not on gender transition by currently serving service members,” Lt. Col. Myles Caggins said in an email to the San Diego Union-Tribune on Tuesday.

He wouldn’t say when the Defense Department will issue a decision.

©2017 The San Diego Union-Tribune
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Staff Sgt. Ashleigh Buch, an instructor with the 38th Combat Training Squadron at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., sits in her home in Omaha, Neb., Oct. 20, 2016. For much of her Air Force career, Buch could have been discharged from the Air Force for being transgender.
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