(Update: This release was updated to more accurately reflect the rank of the transgender SPARTA member in the audience.)
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Date: February 22, 2015
Media Contact: Sue Fulton
New Defense Secretary Addresses Transgender Service for the First Time
Transgender service member in Kandahar Audience: “Speaking Up for Myself Could End It All”
Washington, DC – Five days after being sworn in as Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter today opened the door to a review of DoD’s regulations on transgender military service in his first on-the-record comments on the issue. Linking it to recruiting and retaining the best candidates for military service, Carter told service members in Afghanistan, “I don’t think anything but their suitability for service should preclude them [from serving].” SPARTA members currently serving in Afghanistan were on hand to hear Carter’s remarks.
“Secretary Carter is right – being transgender should not exclude anyone from serving in America’s military,” said Allyson Robinson, former Army captain and SPARTA Director of Policy. “Transgender Americans are serving today with honor and distinction, but must serve in silence and forgo medically necessary care to do so. There is no reason for this to continue. Secretary Carter must lead the way by ordering a top-down, department level review of the regulations.”
Among the service members in the audience for the Secretary’s remarks was a transgender member of SPARTA, who must hide their identity or risk discharge. “I wanted to tell him I’m one of those people serving in silence,” the service member, who holds an enlisted rank, said. “I love my job, I’m supported and respected by the people I serve with, and I want to make the military a career. But until the regs are updated, just speaking up for myself could end it all.”
Over 15,000 transgender people currently serve in the U.S. military according to a 2014 study by UCLA’s Williams Institute. The same study found over 134,000 transgender people among America’s veterans. Eighteen other countries, including the United Kingdom, Australia, and Israel, currently allow transgender people to serve openly in their armed forces.
Secretary Carter’s comments came during a question-and-answer session with troops in Kandahar. Asked his thoughts on transgender people serving in austere environments, Carter responded, “I come at this kind of question from a fundamental starting point, which is that we want to make our conditions and experience of service as attractive as possible to our best people in our country. And I'm very open-minded about -- otherwise about what their personal lives and proclivities are, provided they can do what we need them to do for us. That's the important criteria. Are they going to be excellent service members? And I don't think anything but their suitability for service should preclude them.”
Carter’s remarks in full can be found at http://www.defense.gov/Transcripts/Transcript.aspx?TranscriptID=5594.
About SPARTA: Founded in 2013, SPARTA is an association of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people who currently serve or have served in the U.S. armed forces and their families. Our mission is to advocate for and support our actively serving LGBT service members, veterans, and their families. As a membership organization, SPARTA exists by and for the LGBT military community. The name SPARTA originated as an acronym for “Servicemembers, Partners, and Allies for Respect and Tolerance for All.”