WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon on Monday announced steps aimed at eventually ending an "outdated" ban on transgender men and women serving openly in the U.S. military, including a six-month study of the implications of lifting the restrictions.
The effort came four years after a 2011 decision to end the U.S. military's ban on gays and lesbians serving openly, despite fears - which proved unfounded - that such a move would be too great a burden in wartime and would undermine readiness.
"Transgender men and women in uniform have been there with us, even as they often had to serve in silence alongside their fellow comrades in arms," Defense Secretary Ash Carter said in a statement.
Carter said a working group would spend six months analyzing policy and readiness implications of ending the ban, starting "with the presumption that transgender persons can serve openly without adverse impact."
Carter also announced that, meanwhile, only one person - the under secretary of defense leading the working group - would be able to discharge service members identified as transgender.
"The Defense Department's current regulations regarding transgender service members are outdated and are causing uncertainty that distracts commanders from our core missions," Carter said.
Supporters of transgender rights cheered the news. Ashley Broadway-Mack, president of the American Military Partner Association, applauded the Pentagon move toward allowing "our transgender service members to serve openly and honestly."
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said the Pentagon announcement "is a positive sign."
"It is in everyone's interest that the 15,000 or so currently serving trans people be allowed to serve openly and honorably," Keisling said.
The conservative Family Research Council condemned the move, saying it was driven by politics.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Emily Stephenson and Eric Beech)