WASHINGTON — Dozens of transgender individuals have expressed interest in joining the military since the Pentagon opened recruiting to them on Jan. 1, according to a group that has advocated their cause.
They are the first wave of transgender volunteers to the armed services after federal courts compelled the Pentagon to begin accepting them under an Obama-era policy that President Trump administration had sought to overturn.
“From what we are seeing, the enlistment process appears to be going smoothly, as we expected it would," Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said on Friday. “Transgender people must meet the same qualifications as others, and military recruiters are well-prepared to guide applicants through the process.”
The Pentagon has no figures on how many transgender people have approached recruiters about joining since Jan. 1, said Army Maj. Dave Eastburn, a Defense Department spokesman. It generally takes several weeks from first contact with a recruiter to signing a contract and officially joining the military.
The Pentagon delayed the July 1, 2017 deadline set under the Obama administration for accepting transgender recruits and officer candidates, saying it required more study. Later in July, Trump tweeted that there was no room for transgender troops anywhere in the military. That sent Pentagon officials scrambling to assure those serving that they would not be drummed from the ranks and to launch a reassessment of the policy.
In September, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis announced that a new, comprehensive strategy on transgender troops would be established by Feb. 21 based on input from a panel of experts.
Brad Carson, one of the chief architects of the Obama policy on transgender troops and former top Pentagon official for personnel, said Friday that it will be difficult for a transgender recruit to meet the requirements to sign a contract by late February, including stability in his or her gender for 18 months.
Medical and aptitude testing can take six months or more, Carson said. By then, the Pentagon may have a new set of requirements for transgender recruits.
“I wouldn't be surprised if recruiters cautiously proceed, given the uncertainty about the February policy review,” Carson said.
One such aspiring transgender recruit, Nicolas Talbott, has been in contact with an Air Force National Guard recruiter in Ohio since Jan. 1 Talbott, a plaintiff in one of the cases against Trump’s tweet, and hopes to have the required packet of letters from doctors and letters certifying his health in the next week.
In a court filing from October, Talbott said he realized he was transgender at age 12, came out to his mother at 16 and began taking hormones and transitioning in six years ago. “I live my life now as who I really am — a man.”
In an interview, Talbott, now 24 and a graduate of Kent State University, said he aspires to a career in intelligence or security forces with the Air Force.
“I want to protect other people from terrorist attacks,” he said.
The RAND Corp., in a study commissioned by the Pentagon, estimated that several thousand transgender troops serve among the active-duty force of 1.3 million. The study forecast negligible impact on the military’s readiness to fight and estimated the cost of treatment annually between $2.4 and $8.4 million.