Lolita C. Baldor

WASHINGTON: Saying it’s the right thing to do, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced Thursday that transgender people will be allowed to serve openly in the U.S. military, ending one of the last bans on service in the armed forces.

“Americans who want to serve and can meet our standards should be afforded the opportunity to compete to do so,” said Carter, laying out a one-year plan to implement the change. “Our mission is to defend this country, and we don’t want barriers unrelated to a person’s qualification to serve preventing us from recruiting or retaining the soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine who can best accomplish the mission.”

Under the new policy, by Oct. 1, transgender troops already serving should be able to receive medical care and begin formally changing their gender identifications in the Pentagon’s personnel system. And, a year from now, the military services will begin allowing transgender individuals to enlist, as long as they meet required standards and have been stable in their identified genders for 18 months.

Carter’s announcement comes despite concerns from senior military leaders that the department is moving too fast and that more time is needed to work through the changes.

According to defense officials, the military leaders, including Gen. Mark Milley, the Army chief of staff, and Gen. Robert Neller, commandant of the Marine Corps, said that while they aren’t opposed to lifting the ban, they thought the new rules didn’t include enough specifics to guide commanders making decisions about people in their units.

Carter said he discussed the plans extensively with his military leaders and that, based on those talks, he made adjustments to the timeline. He said he has been told the services now support the timeline.

According to Carter, a study by the RAND think tank found there are 2,500 to 7,000 transgender service members in the active duty military, and another 1,500 to 4,000 in the reserves.

Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, the House Armed Services Committee chairman, called the announcement another example of the Obama administration “prioritizing politics over policy.” He questioned whether the change would affect military readiness and said the committee will push for answers.

Numbers are rising

A team of experts reported Thursday that about 1.4 million adults in the U.S. identify as transgender, double the estimate from a decade ago. Their survey calculates that 0.6 percent of U.S. adults are transgender.

The new survey was conducted by four scholars and analysts affiliated with the Williams Institute, a think tank at the UCLA School of Law that specializes in research on issues affecting lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people.

One of the experts, demographer Gary Gates, had come up with the previous estimate of 700,000 in a report issued in 2011 that used data from the previous decade.

The new estimate, he said, resulted from the availability of much more comprehensive data, as well as the increased willingness of transgender people to be open about their gender identity.

The new survey used data from the 2014 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a 50-state survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2014, a question about transgender identity was asked in 19 states; the Williams Institute experts used those responses to estimate the transgender population in all 50 states.

The new estimates were welcomed by Mara Keisling, executive director of the Washington-based National Center for Transgender Equality.

Keisling said efforts to enact state and local nondiscrimination laws are often greeted with the refrain, “There’s not enough of those people — why are we bothering with this?”

“Now we can make that conversation more rational,” she said.