WASHINGTON • The US military will consider opening its doors to transgender people who are now banned from service and can be booted out if discovered, Pentagon chief Ashton Carter said.
The Secretary of Defence said a working group will be studying the issue during the next six months.
"The Defence Department's current regulations regarding transgender service members are outdated and are causing uncertainty that distracts commanders from our core missions," he said on Monday.
As a result, the Pentagon "will create a working group to study over the next six months the policy and readiness implications of welcoming transgender persons to serve openly", he said.
Despite the 2011 repeal of the divisive "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law which banned gays from serving openly, transgender people in the US have remained banned.
Mr Carter said the study "will start with the presumption that transgender persons can serve openly without adverse impact on military effectiveness and readiness, unless and except where objective, practical impediments are identified".
The Pentagon chief added: "We have transgender soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines - real patriotic Americans - who I know are being hurt by an outdated, confusing, inconsistent approach."
Democrat Adam Smith, ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, applauded the statement, saying "it is long past time that we definitively and affirmatively make it clear that gender identity should have no bearing on an individual's ability to serve".
There are believed to be thousands of transgender people serving in the US armed forces, but under the current rules, if they are discovered, the military is required to dismiss them.
The Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group that works for gay and transgender rights, heralded the breakthrough, with its president Chad Griffin saying: "We welcome and applaud the announcement by Secretary Carter that the military will, at last, conduct a comprehensive review of the outdated ban that has for far too long discriminated against qualified transgender Americans who simply want to serve their country."