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Defense Secretary willing to review policy on transgender troops

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel believes that the Pentagon needs to review its ban on open service for transgender troops.

Appearing Sunday on ABC’s "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," Hagel indicated that he was willing to look into the issue, which has heated up since the Pentagon axed the discriminatory "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that prevented gay and lesbian troops from serving openly.

In response to Martha Raddatz's question about military health regulations that effectively bar military service by transgender persons, Hagel said he believes that regulations should be reviewed.

"I do think it continually should be reviewed," Hagel said. "I’m open to that. I’m open to those assessments, because – again, I go back to the bottom line – every qualified American who wants to serve our country should have an opportunity if they fit the qualifications and can do it."

LGBT groups reacted favorably to Hagel's comments.

"We look forward to working with the Pentagon to end these outdated rules that harm our military," said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE).

David Stacy, government affairs director for the Human Rights Campaign, agreed.

"A review of the 30-year-old Pentagon medical regulations is necessary and timely. The fundamental principle that every employer should use to evaluate their personnel is ability and job performance--and this principle particularly applies to our nation's Armed Forces. It makes no sense to exclude qualified transgender service members, and we are pleased Secretary Hagel endorses a review. HRC looks forward to additional details about the next steps and to working with the Department of Defense and coalition partners to ensure changes to these harmful regulations," Stacy said.

Thousands of transgender service members currently serve bravely and competently in all branches of the military, but are forced to hide who they are or risk losing their careers. Currently, military medical regulations disqualify transgender recruits require the discharge of service members found to be transgender.

"These regulations are based on prejudices and stereotypes about who transgender people are and need to be updated to comport with modern medical science," Keisling said.

The military prides itself on the modernity and scientific basis of its medical regulations. Transgender service is one area where arbitrary and archaic regulations belie that pride. To be scientifically sound and retain the best qualified individuals, transgender service regulations should treat transgender recruits exactly the same as others and judge each person on their fitness to serve.

"This willingness to evaluating changes to the medical regulations is overdue but very welcome. If the Secretary were able to meet and talk with the trans service members I've met, he'd understand the answer is self-evident. These are amazing people who serve even though they must hide a basic part of who they are," Keisling said. "Our National Transgender Discrimination Survey, conducted by NCTE and The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, showed that about one-fifth of all transgender adults are veterans, making transgender people approximately twice as likely as others to serve in the military."