Pentagon sets up panel to study transgender military ban

WASHINGTON, Sept 15 (Reuters) - The Pentagon said on Friday that it had created a panel of senior officials to study how to implement a directive by President Donald Trump to ban transgender individuals serving in the U.S. military.

In the meantime, existing policy would remain in force, Pentagon spokesman Colonel Robert Manning told reporters.

Last month, Trump signed a memorandum that directed the military not to accept transgender men and women as recruits.

It also ordered Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to determine in the coming months how to handle transgender individuals currently serving, using criteria including “military effectiveness and lethality,” budget constraints, and law.

Trump’s move appealed to his conservative political base but was heavily condemned by advocates of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights. It has also created uncertainty for thousands of transgender service members.

The Pentagon has until February to provide an implementation plan to the White House and until then transgender service members can serve. Under Obama last year, the Pentagon ended its ban on transgender people serving openly, calling the prohibition outdated.

“Current transgender service members will continue to serve throughout the military and continue to receive necessary medical treatment as prescribed by their medical provider,” Manning said.

Mattis had directed the deputy secretary of defense and vice chairman of the joint chiefs of staff to develop an implementation plan, Manning said. The panel would include other senior military officials, including outside experts.

Separately, four U.S. senators, including John McCain, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, introduced legislation that would not allow the Pentagon to remove present service members based on their gender identity.

“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,” McCain said.

Reporting by Idrees Ali, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien