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Sen. John McCain introduces bill to protect transgender troops

In this July 29, 2017 photo transgender U.S. army captain Jennifer Sims lifts her uniform during an interview with The Associated Press in Beratzhausen near Regensburg, Germany. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

PHOENIX — U.S. Sen. John McCain has introduced a bill that aims to protect transgender troops by preventing the Department of Defense from removing active service members based solely on their gender identity.

The bipartisan bill was introduced with Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York), Susan Collins (R-Maryland) and Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island) on Friday.

According to a press release, the legislation would:

• “Express a sense of Congress that individuals who are qualified and can meet the standards to serve in the military should be eligible to serve;”

• “Prohibit DoD from involuntarily separating, or denying the reenlistment or continuation in service in the Armed Forces of currently serving transgender service members solely on the basis of the member’s gender identity;” and

• “Require Secretary Mattis to complete his review of accession of transgender individuals into the Armed Forces by the end of this year and report the results to Congress.”

In a statement released on Friday, McCain said that any service member who meets the standards for military readiness and medical fitness should be permitted to serve.

“When less than 1 percent of Americans are volunteering to join the military, we should welcome all those who are willing and able to serve our country,” he said.

Gillibrand said she had planned to offer the measure protecting transgender troops as an amendment to the annual defense policy bill that the Senate has been considering over the last several days. But she said the Senate’s Republican leadership “cut off debate” and blocked the amendment from getting a vote.

“Thousands of brave transgender Americans love our country enough to risk their lives for it, fight for it, and even die for it, and Congress should honor them and let them serve,” said Gillibrand, who thanked McCain for his support.

Trump bans transgender troops

In a series of tweets, President Donald Trump declared a ban on transgender troops serving anywhere in the U.S. military back in July.

McCain, a war veteran, openly disagreed with the move, saying at the time that “there is no reason to force service members who are able to fight, train and deploy to leave the military — regardless of their gender identity.”

Transgender troops have been openly serving in the military since 2016.

Execution of ban remains unclear

About a month after Trump announced the ban, the president issued more formal instructions, directing the Pentagon to extend indefinitely a ban on transgender individuals joining the military.

But Trump also gave Defense Secretary Jim Mattis six months to come up with a policy on how to address those currently serving, leaving the door open to permitting their continued service.

Mattis began assembling a panel of experts to help craft the policy, which he said would “promote military readiness, lethality and unit cohesion.” Transgender people would be allowed to remain in uniform until Mattis completed the work.

New guidance released Friday by the Pentagon made it clear that any transgender troops currently in the military can re-enlist in the next several months.

Mattis said in a memo that a high-level panel will determine how to implement Trump’s ban on transgender individuals in the military.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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