Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told cadets this week at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs that being transgender isn't a bar to making it in the U.S. military because the top priority is accomplishing the mission.
"It's the quality and readiness of the force that matters," he said Thursday at the academy. "That's the goal. Keep that in front of us."
Carter made his comment after a cadet asked whether the Defense Department plans to educate troops about transgender people, since "a lot of members of the military and even the general public who don't encounter transgender people on an ongoing basis don't fully understand it."
The secretary said the Pentagon is still developing policy regarding transgender personnel.
"I think it has a lot of ramifications that are very practical," he said. "The question of principle we've sort of settled, which is … what matters is people's ability to contribute to our military."
Carter acknowledged that "practical issues" will need to be considered.
"We are very good at working through those kinds of things," he said. "It's like everything else we do. We try to do things in a careful, thoughtful manner, and I'm confident we're going to get to the right place in this, as in so many other things we have to work through."
The secretary on Friday presided over a change of command ceremony at nearby Peterson Air Force Base, where Air Force Gen. Lori Robinson assumed command of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, becoming the first female combatant commander.