The Air Force looks likely to review its ban on transgender troops in the next year and could end that policy, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James told USA Today Tuesday.
"Times change," she said in the newspaper's weekly video series "Capital Download." She added that the policy is "is likely to come under review in the next year or so."
"From my point of view, anyone who is capable of accomplishing the job should be able to serve," James said when asked whether allowing transgender men and women to serve could affect the military's readiness.
USA Today reports that James is the first secretary of a branch of the armed forces to support the idea of ending the ban on transgender troops, an idea that has gathered steam among some members of Congress including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California. In October, her spokesman told The Washington Blade that Pelosi "believes there is no place for discrimination in the U.S. Armed Forces, including on the basis of gender identity."
With support from President Obama and then-Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, Congress voted to end the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policythat banned gays from serving in the military in 2010. The repeal left out transgender service members. The Williams Institute at the University of California-Los Angeles Law School estimates there are 15,500 transgender individuals serving on active duty or in the Guard or Reserve service. Their study also estimates that 150,000 transgender individuals have served in the history U.S. armed forces or are currently in active duty.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in October that he didn't know whether the president would call to overturn the ban on transgender service members before the end of his term. The Pentagon has also reportedly not begun a study of the issue yet.
The ban on service members who are transgender was put in place before 1980. It lists "transexualism" among the "psychosexual conditions" that are a disqualifier for serving in the military, according to the Blade.
Current and former members of the military who are transgender have begun to publicly push for a change in the policy, and it could come up when Defense Secretary nominee Ashton Carter appears before Congress for his confirmation hearings next year.