There is renewed energy on Capitol Hill to lift the Defense Department’s ban on transgender troops.
Lawmakers view recent steps by the Pentagon and some of the armed services to expand protections for gay and lesbian troops as an opportunity to do away with the decades-old prohibition on allowing transgender troops to serve openly.
They are also taking note of other societal changes in calling for the ban on service by transgender trips to be lifted.
“In politics, I think it’s always appropriate to take advantage of timing. Whether it’s taking down the Confederate flag or creating equality in the military for transgender persons,” said Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.).
She plans to introduce legislation next month that calls on the Pentagon to immediately grant anti-discrimination protection for all service members, and their dependents, who identify as transgender.
The bill, which is still being drafted, would also direct the Defense secretary to hammer out new policies for transgender troops, from regulations about their uniforms to what treatments would be covered under Tricare, the military’s healthcare system.
Separately, Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) on Thursday lead a group of nearly 20 House members in a letter to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter that urged him to do away with the policy.
“People should be evaluated on performance, not gender,” Honda, who has a transgender granddaughter, said in a statement
Any effort to do away with the prohibition is likely to face stiff resistance in a GOP-controlled Congress.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) has said the decision on the ban should be left to the Pentagon.
The department “needs to look at a variety of policies. As long as they look at it objectively, based on what’s best for the security interests of the country, then we’ll oversee or review what they do,” he told The Hill.
“When there’s a sense that there’s some extraneous social or political agenda … people get concerned,” Thornberry added.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) struck a similar chord.
“The administration policy should always be a basis for our discussion,” he said.
Transgender activists say that, while they are heartened by the increased focus on the issue, they aren’t about to pin their hopes on Capitol Hill.
They note that, while lawmakers led the charge in the 2011 repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” the Clinton-era law that prohibited gay and lesbian people from serving openly in the military, the transgender ban is department-level policy.
Read more: The Hill