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Obama Agrees That Transgender Soldiers Shouldn't Be Banned

President Barack Obama agrees with Defense Secretary Ashton Carter that transgender people shouldn’t be barred from military service due to their gender identity.
U.S. Secretary of Defence Ash Carter speaks during a question-and-answer session with US military personnel at Kandahar Airfield in the Afghan city of Kandahar on February 22, 2015.JONATHAN ERNST / AFP - Getty Images

President Barack Obama agrees with remarks made by new Defense Secretary Ashton Carter that transgender people shouldn’t be barred from military service due to their gender identity, the White House Press Secretary said Monday.

Carter made the comments at a town-hall event in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in response to a question from Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jesse M. Ehrenfeld, a doctor, about transgender soldiers serving in an "austere environment" like the one in Kandahar.

"(W)e 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," Carter said. "I don't think anything but their suitability for service should preclude them."

When asked Monday about Obama’s response to the remarks, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said: “The president agrees with the sentiment that all Americans who are qualified to serve should be able to serve and for that reason we here at the White House welcome the comments from the Secretary of Defense.”

He then declined to comment on possible next steps, saying the Defense Department of Defense would address the issue.

The American Military Partner Association, a nonprofit support network for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender families, welcomed Carter's remarks but urged he go further and order a review of "outdated regulations that prevent the estimated 15,500 transgender service members currently in uniform from serving openly and honestly."

Last year, the Defense Department got rid of a regulation designating "sexual and gender identity disorders" as cause for administrative discharge, according to the Palm Center, which conducts research on sexual minorities in the military.

Carter earlier in February replaced Chuck Hagel, who said in May 2014 that he was open to a review of the policy. Hagel announced his resignation last November after less than two years leading the Defense Department.