Army eases policy on transgender soldiers

Chelsea Manning, formerly known as Bradley Manning, will receive hormone therapy treatment. (Photo: Patrick Semansky, AP)

The decision to discharge transgender soldiers from the Army now has to be made by a top, senior civilian official, documents obtained by USA TODAY show, a move that will make it more difficult to remove such troops from the service. Instead of being made by lower-level Army officers, the undated memorandum says the decision to discharge transgender soldiers must now by made by the assistant secretary of the Army for personnel. In all services, transgender troops can be automatically dismissed from service on medical grounds once they are identified. “This is a welcome step toward inclusive policy, but transgender troops must still serve in silence until more is done to dismantle the ban,” said Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, which has published research on sexual orientation issues in the military. Army officials had no comment about the memo, known as an All Army Activities directive, or the level at which decisions on dismissing transgender soldiers had been made, said Wayne Hall, an Army spokesman. The new directive expires after 12 months, or sooner, if a broader re-interpretation of the Army’s rules about transgender soldiers is issued. The Army’s decision echoes the military’s dismantlement of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which allowed gays and lesbians to serve unless their sexuality was discovered. Before the policy was rescinded in 2011, the decision to discharge gay troops had been raised to the Pentagon’s top lawyer and personnel official and service secretaries. In effect, that requirement functioned as a moratorium, as no further dismissals were sought under “don’t ask, don’t tell.” “Hopefully this is a signal that the Army — and other service branches — will finally begin a comprehensive review of the regulations regarding transgender servicemembers, which everyone agrees is long overdue,” said Joshua Block, who leads the American Civil Liberties Union Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project. “I also hope the 12-month time frame is an indication that the Army understands the urgency of this issue for transgender servicemembers and their commanders.” More