While answering questions from service members in Kandahar, Afghanistan, newly sworn-in Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter revealed that he is "open-minded" about transgendered individuals serving in the military, adding, "I don't think anything but their suitability for service should preclude them."
Carter is in Afghanistan to assess the security situation in the country less than a week after officially assuming his position. His remarks were in response to an unidentified service member at a troop event organized to welcome the new secretary. While the question was specifically about the transgendered serving in an "austere environment" like Kandahar, Carter's reply seems to have broader application. Here's the full exchange [emphasis added]:
Q: Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for being here. I'm Lieutenant Commander (inaudible).
It means the world to me that in your first week on the job you came to spend the time with us, to thank us for what we're doing, so that -- I just want to thank you for that.
Quick question for you: What are your thoughts on transgender service members serving in an austere environment like this here in Kandahar?
SEC. CARTER: I come at that from a fundamental starting point. It's not something I've studied a lot since I became secretary of defense. But I come at this kind of question from a fundamental starting point, which is that we want to make our conditions and experience of service as attractive as possible to our best people in our country.
And I'm very open-minded about -- otherwise about what their personal lives and proclivities are, provided they can do what we need them to do for us. That's the important criteria. Are they going to be excellent service members?
And I don't think anything but their suitability for service should preclude them.
USA Today reported last week that the Army was considering easing its policy on transgendered soldiers, making it more difficult to remove them from the service. According to the Washington Blade, Carter "did not discuss the ban on openly transgender servicemembers or other LGBT-specific issues" during his confirmation hearings.