WASHINGTON — The Army issued a directive Friday that protects transgender soldiers from being dismissed by mid-level officers by requiring the decision for discharge to be made by the service's top civilian for personnel matters.
The Army's new policy is the latest indication that the military's ban on transgender troops may be eased or even lifted.
Last month, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told troops he was "very open-minded" about transgender troops, adding that nothing but a person's ability to serve should keep them from serving. Two days later, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said President Obama endorsed Carter's comments.
USA TODAY first reported on the policy change in the All Army Activities directive when it was in draft form. The Army declined to comment on it Friday, said Lt. Col. Alayne Conway, a spokeswoman.
In essence, the announcement places a moratorium on dismissals by requiring officers to explain their decision to discharge a transgender soldier to a high-ranking civilian leader, a move many would view as potentially damaging to their careers. The Pentagon took the same tack when it backed away from its Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy that banned gay and lesbian troops. It required a review of decisions to discharge gay troops by the department's top lawyer and service secretaries, and no further dismissals occurred.
Troops with gender dysphoria, a recognized medical condition, are barred from serving in the military for medical reasons. The Army is the first of the services to chip away at that ban. Last month, the Army also approved hormone treatments for Chelsea Manning, the transgender soldier convicted of divulging a trove of classified information to WikiLeaks. There are indications other services may follow suit, with Air Force Secretary Deborah James telling USA TODAY that she favors repealing the ban as well.
In 2010, the service chiefs voiced concern about repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell, telling Congress that it could affect discipline. Those worries proved unfounded as openly gay and lesbian troops have served with few issues.
The Pentagon does not count transgender troops who have been discharged. About 24 transgender troops have been dismissed, according to a report released last year by the Palm Center. It estimated that there are 15,000 transgender troops serving.
There is no specific reassessment of the ban on transgender troops, according to Lt. Cdr. Nate Christensen, a Pentagon spokesman. However, a routine review began earlier this month of the Pentagon's medical policy under which transgender troops are discharged, he said. The review is expected to take a year or more.