WASHINGTON — For transgender troops and veterans, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s carefully chosen remark that he’s receptive to reviewing the Pentagon’s policy barring them from service is a major step forward.
“This is the biggest baby step we’ve ever had,” said Allyson Robinson, 43, a transgender veteran and West Point graduate. She currently serves as policy director for SPARTA, an advocacy group for LGBT troops and veterans.
An Army captain, transitioning from woman to man, called the news “incredibly exciting.” His superiors know that he has undergone hormone treatment and surgery and accept and support him because he does his job, he says.
“We know that we are fit to serve,” said the soldier who spoke on condition of anonymity because acknowledging his transition would get him kicked out of the Army. “Our commanders and our colleagues know that we are fit to serve.”
The review, he said, will show there “no justification for wasting taxpayers money by separating fully qualified and capable soldiers” based on medical regulations. USA Today verified his service by speaking with colleagues who know him.
Hagel raised the possibility of the review, the necessary first step to revoking the policy, in an interview with Martha Raddatz of ABC News.
“I do think it continually should be reviewed,” Hagel said. “I’m open to that, by the way.”
There currently is no review of the policy under way, according to a defense official who was not authorized to speak publicly. The policy automatically disqualifies troops for medical reasons. If a review of the policy is begun, it would take at least a year for the policy to be reversed, the official said.
The issue of allowing transgender troops to serve openly has gained momentum in the last year. Hagel presided over an event celebrating gay, lesbian and transgender pride at the Pentagon last June.
In March, a report by the Palm Center found “no compelling” medical reason to bar transgender troops from serving. It was co-chaired by Joycelyn Elders, the former U.S. surgeon general. The report cited a study that estimated more than 15,000 transgender troops are currently serving. The center researches issues of gender and sexuality and the military.
Hagel’s short statement is seen as the first step in allowing those troops to serve openly.