PARIS — Within weeks of the Pentagon allowing transgender service members to serve openly, Army officials said 10 soldiers have formally asked to be recognized as their new, preferred gender.
The small number represents only those who have publicly said they are transgender, and doesn’t include soldiers who may be considering or beginning gender transition, or those who don’t yet want to make an official paperwork change.
General Mark Milley, chief of staff of the Army, said the key now is to educate the force, particularly commanders who will have to make decisions about soldiers in their units who request a gender change.
“Is the army ready? Well, we are educating ourselves, and we are trying to get ready,” Milley said in an interview with the Associated Press. “We’re well past the issue of debating and arguing about transgender. We are now into execution, to make sure the program is carried out with diligence, dignity, respect.”
The Pentagon policy took effect Oct. 1, and Army Secretary Eric Fanning approved the service’s new transgender guidelines earlier this month. Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced in June that he was ending the ban on transgender individuals serving openly in the military.
Transgender troops are now able to receive medical care and begin changing their gender identifications in the Pentagon’s personnel system. Next year, the military services will begin allowing transgender individuals to enlist, as long as they meet required standards and have been stable in their identified gender for 18 months.
“We’re monitoring implementation closely, and everything we’ve seen so far points to a military organization fully committed to treating everyone equally and providing medically necessary care to all troops, not just some,” said Aaron Belkin, director of the California-based Palm Center, an independent research institute. “My conclusion, so far, is that implementation has proceeded smoothly and successfully.”
Milley and other military leaders expressed concerns that the department was moving too fast.
“The issue to do it or not to do it, to me is not an issue — the answer is yes,” Milley said. “The question of how to do it so that it is deliberate, well thought out, executed with professionalism — that’s a horse of a different color. Frankly I asked for more time.”
Milley said he did a lot of “self-education,” meeting with transgender individuals, both military and civilian, as well as other groups.
Now, he said, the Army is getting education programs out to the force to make sure troops and commanders know the new rules, process, medical criteria, and who has the authority to make decisions on a service member’s gender change.
Under the new Army guidelines, training must be developed by Nov. 1, and it must be completed throughout the force by next July.
“It’s going to take a little bit of time, but there are some things I don’t think you need to necessarily be trained on,” Milley said. “Rule One is treat your soldiers, your subordinates, your peers, and your superiors as you want to be treated. Treat everybody with dignity and respect. Period. Flat out. Full stop.”
Transgender troops currently serving can request that their gender be officially changed, and they can submit required documentation, including medical approval saying the person has been stable in his or her preferred gender for 18 months, and a driver’s license showing the preferred gender.
Commanders will have 30 days to respond for active duty troops and 60 days for soldiers in the National Guard and Reserve.
The transgender service members will be able to use the bathrooms, housing, uniforms, and fitness standards of their preferred gender only after they have legally transitioned to that identity, and it’s documented in their military personnel records.
The new policy, however, gives military commanders some flexibility, noting that not all gender transition cases are the same. Commanders will have the discretion to make decisions on a case-by-case basis, including on job placements, deployments, training delays, and other accommodations, based on the needs of the military mission and whether the service members can perform their duties.
According to the Army guidelines, commanders can allow “reasonable accommodations” including changes to housing, bathroom, and shower use to respect the modesty or privacy interests of soldiers and maintain morals, order, and discipline.
But it prohibits creating transgender-only areas and says that any privacy accommodations that are made must be open for use by all soldiers, not just transgender individuals.
And commanders can’t force a soldier to use a bathroom or shower of the person’s preferred gender before their legal transition.
According to Carter, a RAND study found that there are between 2,500 and 7,000 transgender service members in the active duty military, and another 1,500 to 4,000 in the reserves.
Milley said the Army numbers so far are low, but the service doesn’t track the number of soldiers who may be starting the gender transition process.
“We may not know the full scope yet,” said Milley. “Others that may consider themselves as transgender but haven’t self-identified publicly may be holding back because they want to see how things progress.”
— Lolita C. Baldor