Over 6,000 transgender people are serving in the U.S. military, but two transgender cadets may be barred from serving because the Pentagon, under President Trump’s defense secretary, doesn’t have any procedures in place for accepting transgender recruits and officers.
The two cadets, who hail from Air Force and Army academies, will graduate this May if they pass their final exams. However, the Pentagon is currently drafting plans for accepting cadets and other transgender soldiers into the military—meaning that currently, the Department of Defense has no policies for bringing transgender soldiers into the armed forces.
In 2016, Defense Secretary Ash Carter, under President Obama, removed the Pentagon’s ban on transgender soldiers, allowing trans personnel to openly serve in the military throughout the armed forces. Carter also provided guidelines for the armed forces in handling transgender officers and recruits, saying that trans soldiers must live as their preferred gender for an 18-month period and receive certification from a medical professional before entering the armed forces.
Now that Carter has been replaced by Defense Secretary James Mattis, those original guidelines are murky as the Pentagon finalizes its plans for enlisting trans personnel. As a result, the Air Force academy is highly encouraging its transgender cadet to enlist in the civil service.
“Currently, there is an Air Force Academy cadet who has identified as a transgender individual,” academy spokesman Lt. Col. Allen Herritage told USA Today. “The cadet can graduate. But, per the current [Defense Department] transgender policy, this cadet cannot commission into the Air Force. However, we are strongly recommending this individual for Air Force civil service as an option for continued service after the academy.”
Meanwhile, the Army’s transgender cadet’s gender identity is not being recognized in the academy; instead, West Point is referring to the cadet by their biological sex. Army spokeswoman Cynthia Smith also said that the cadet will not be able to join active-duty enlistees, according to USA Today.
For now, both cadets’ names and gender identities remain anonymous. However, their cases raise further concerns about whether the Pentagon will reinvoke the ban against transgender people in the military, as Mattis’ policy plans remain unclear.