Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Thursday that he was open to allowing people who identify as “non-binary” to serve in the U.S. military.
He gave his stamp of approval to non-binary troops during questioning by Sen. Marsha Blackburn at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. The Tennesse Republican asked Mr. Austin about recent reports that the Pentagon was quietly studying how non-binary troops could join the ranks.
While Mr. Austin refused to confirm the status of the study, the defense chief signaled that he had no qualms with non-binary recruits.
“I am supportive of allowing any person that is eligible and can meet the qualifications to serve their country,” said Mr. Austin. “I can’t speak at this point to who is involved in any of the studies we have ongoing.”
The defense secretary refused to speculate whether the inclusion of non-binary or “gender fluid” individuals in the armed forces would force the Pentagon to build gender-neutral housing.
Non-binary is a term used to define people who identify outside their birth gender or who do not identify as either male or female. It includes people who identify as transgender, though not all non-binary people identify as trans.
The term has come into vogue as gender lines have blurred over the past two decades. Most individuals that self-identify as non-binary prefer to be referenced to as they or them.
In recent years, LGBT activists have targeted the U.S military, arguing that its policies need to be made more inclusive to non-binary and transgender individuals.
The Obama administration relented to such pressure in 2016 by lifting prohibitions on transgender troops. The ban was reinstated during the Trump administration, before being lifted again when President Biden came into office.
In December, the U.S. Air Force followed Mr. Biden’s lead by issuing a directive allowing personnel to list their preferred pronouns in their signature block on military email addresses.