The United States has allowed transgender personnel to openly serve in the armed forces, lifting what was called one of the last remaining barriers to military service.
“Effective immediately, transgender Americans may serve openly,” defense secretary Ashton Carter said at a news briefing on Thursday. “They can no longer be discharged or otherwise separated from the military just for being transgender.”
There are an estimated 2,450 personnel among the 1.3 million active-duty service members who identify themselves as transgender, according to a widely cited think tank report.
But they were unable to declare themselves transgender uptil now.
The New York Times said the announcement “removed one of the final barriers to military service” in the US, which allowed gay people to serve in the armed forces in 2011.
And in 2015, President Barack Obama appointed Eric Fanning secretary for the army, making him the first openly gay person to head a branch of the US military.
India has a long way to go on this, with homosexuality still a crime under a colonial era law struck down by a high court in 2009 but reinstated by the Supreme Court in 2013.
Under the new rules announced by Carter, the government will cover medical expenses of serving personnel undergoing gender transition — an estimated 65 a year.
And transgender people joining the military will have to have been in their transitioned gender for 18 months before applying.
Carter told reporters at the briefing the decision has the backing of senior military leaders, none of whom was present on stage with him at the announcement.
Some pushback is expected from Republicans in Congress who have said they will call hearings to judge what impact this new decision will have on the effectiveness of the military.
But the Times said that “several studies on the issue have concluded that lifting the ban is unlikely to have any appreciable effect on the readiness of the armed forces”.