The Trump administration has delayed a plan to accept transgender recruits into the military, putting on hold a divisive integration effort that could reverberate in other aspects of American public life.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis announced Friday evening he would impose a six-month delay on accepting transgender recruits into the armed forces so that military leaders could study the impact and implementation of such a policy.
The US military had been set to start processing transgender recruits on Saturday, under a plan signed by Mattis’ predecessor under president Barack Obama.
“We will use this additional time to evaluate more carefully the impact of such accessions on readiness and lethality, Mattis said in a memo to top military brass.
“This action in no way presupposes the outcome of the review… I am confident we will continue to treat all service members with dignity and respect,” he said.
Conservatives in the United States had resisted efforts by the Obama administration to push for the rights of transgender people, a politically controversial topic despite the relatively small number of people directly impacted by such decisions.
In February, the Trump administration overturned rules set by Obama requiring public schools to let transgender students use bathrooms and locker rooms matching the gender with which they identify, rather than the one on their birth certificate.
The new guidance allows states and school districts to decide whether students can access bathrooms of their choice.
The debate is in full force in some US states in particular, including Texas, where the legislature is set to adopt a bill requiring transgender students to use bathrooms that correspond with their “biological sex.”
At the Pentagon, the postponement of transgender recruitment was requested by some military leaders who “asked for time… there were all kinds of different recommendations,” spokeswoman Dana White said.
Media reports said the Air Force and Army had requested a two-year delay, though Mattis in his memo set a deadline for a review to be completed by December 1, with transgender recruitment possibly going into effect as early as January 1, 2018.
An estimated 2,500 to 7,000 transgender people are currently among the 1.3 million active duty service members.
Until a year ago, they could have been fired for openly expressing their gender identity. The policy allowing them to continue serving, adopted by Mattis’ predecessor Ashton Carter, remains in place.
The Department of Defense has taken a cautious stance overall on the sensitive topic.
“Transgender personnel are serving right now and there is no review ongoing that would affect the ability of those currently serving to continue serving,” General Joe Dunford, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said in a speech last month.
Since last year, the military has been required to provide transgender service members with all medically necessary care related to gender transition.
Advocates of allowing transgender people to join the military criticized Mattis’ decision to delay implementation of such a policy.
“We are disappointed in this needless delay because the thousands of highly trained and qualified transgender service members openly and proudly serving our nation today have proven that what matters is the ability to accomplish the mission, not their gender identity,” said Stephen Peters, national press secretary of Human Rights Campaign.
“Each day that passes without the policy in place restricts the armed forces’ ability to recruit the best and the brightest, regardless of gender identity.”
Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, a California research institute that worked with the Pentagon on gender issues, added: “As predicted by all of the research, transgender military service has been a success. For the past year, transgender troops have been serving openly and have been widely praised by their commanders.”
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