Defense Secretary James Mattis has agreed to a request from military service chiefs for a six-month delay in allowing openly transgender people to enlist in the U.S. armed forces.
Dana White, a Pentagon spokesperson, said Mattis on Friday “approved a recommendation by the services to defer accessing transgender applicants into the military until Jan. 1, 2018.”
“The services will review their accession plans and provide input on the impact to the readiness and lethality of our forces,” White said.
Mattis agreed to the delay after the military service chiefs made a joint request for the delay in transgender accession, which was set to begin July 1 as a result of a policy change under the Obama administration.
Following a year-long review, former Defense Secretary Ashton Carter last year lifted the ban on transgender military service. That allowed transgender people serving in the U.S. armed forces to come out without fear of discharge, but certain aspects of the policy change were left for a later time. Among them was allowing openly transgender people to enlist in the U.S. military, which was set to begin July 1.
In a memo dated June 30 and obtained by the Washington Blade, Mattis lays out his concerns about transgender enlistments and whether they will impact the capabilities of the U.S. military.
“Since becoming Secretary of Defense, I have emphasized that the Department of Defense must measure each policy decision against one critical standard: will the decision affect the readiness and lethality of the armed forces?” Mattis writes. “Put another way, how will the decision affect the ability of America’s military forces to defend the Nation?”
Mattis writes the Pentagon will use the additional six months to “evaluate more carefully” the impact of transgender accession. The delay, Mattis writes, in “no way presupposes the outcome of review,” nor does it change policies already in place with regard to transgender service.
The defense secretary agreed to the change after Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) threatened to amend major defense policy legislation with an amendment barring transgender military service if the Pentagon didn’t act to reverse the Obama-era change internally.
Matthew Thorn, executive director of the LGBT military group OutServe-SLDN, criticized the decision to delay transgender enlistments as “a disservice to the transgender community and to our military as a whole.”
“We are disappointed that the Department of Defense has chosen to delay, by six months, implementation of the recruitment policy, thus denying qualified transgender individuals the opportunity to enlist, attend ROTC or enroll in one of the military academies,” Thorn said. “Transgender service members have been serving, openly and authentically, since October 2016 with no impact on readiness. It is time to full lift the ban on transgender service by implementing this final piece by implementing the accessions policy.”
In January, when asked about LGBT military service during his confirmation hearing, Mattis said he wouldn’t reverse changes to the U.S. military under the Obama administration “unless a service chief brings something to me where there’s a problem that’s been proven.” On “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, Mattis said he’s “never cared much about two consenting adults — who they go to bed with.”