Months before Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said the Pentagon would take steps toward allowing transgender people to serve openly in the military, Army Staff Sgt. Patricia King last year became what she believes is the first openly transgender member of the infantry. And while official Pentagon policy still forbids open transgender personnel, her commanders have been supportive, she said. King even purchased a female dress Army service uniform, anticipating that she would be able to wear it soon.

“I made a decision that owning that uniform was important to me, and I believe that our leadership is going to do the right thing,” she said.

But four months after a deadline Carter set for a working group to finish evaluating the issue, transgender service members are still waiting. Officials say disagreements remain in the Defense Department about how to move forward, suggesting that the Pentagon isn’t close to wrapping up the review, let alone instituting any changes.

Peter Levine, who recently took over as the Pentagon’s acting personnel chief, said that Carter remains committed to pursuing the change but added that it will likely take “months, but not large numbers of months” more to finalize details.

“If there was consensus on it, yeah, we would have done it,” Levine said. “But obviously there are different views from different officials in the services.”

He added: “We’re going to work through that … and we’re going to do it expeditiously so that we can do it in this administration. But it’s important that we not only do it, but do it right.”


The military is already in the middle of a historic transition allowing women to serve in all combat roles. And the Pentagon is grappling with transgender rights as the issue has gained attention in other parts of the country, including North Carolina, where the governor is facing off with the federal government over a ban on transgender people using bathrooms that don’t match the gender they were assigned on their birth certificates.

The Justice Department ruled the law discriminatory last week, and North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, R, sued the department Monday, accusing the federal government of “baseless and blatant overreach.”

Also on Friday, the Obama administration directed schools across the country to provide transgender students with access to suitable facilities.

The Pentagon’s decades-old policy considers transgender people to be sexual deviants, allowing the military to discharge them. The services – and later, Carter – decided last year to move that discharge authority to higher levels in the military, making it more difficult to force out transgender people. The lack of a new policy, however, continues to create complicated situations for transgender service members and their commanders.

In one case, Army Sgt. Shane Ortega, a transgender man, was required last summer to go to a uniform shop where he was stationed at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii with a senior enlisted soldier to obtain a female dress uniform in order to meet Army officials at the Pentagon to discuss transgender policy concerns, according to Ortega and Army officials.

Ortega said the incident showed “a real lack of leadership and a lack of human compassion” and demonstrated that the level of discrimination and ignorance in the military about transgender people is huge.

“I had to go through this experience at a public time … and try on this uniform in a public space and basically be humiliated because everyone in the space is going to go, ‘Why is this male soldier trying on this female uniform?’ “

Wayne Hall, an Army spokesman, said that service policy dictated that “the appropriate uniform” for Ortega was the female dress uniform because he enlisted as a woman in 2009. Ortega and Hall said the requirement was eventually dropped and that Ortega was allowed to wear a more unisex camouflage utility uniform to the meeting.

The Palm Center, an independent think tank that researches issues of sexuality, has assessed that there are about 12,800 transgender service members in the military.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: