Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, left, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, and Defense Under Secretary and Chief Financial Office David Norquist, listen to a question as they testify at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on the FY'18 defens
Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, left, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, and Defense Under Secretary and Chief Financial Office David Norquist, listen to a question as they testify at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on the FY'18 defens

WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Friday approved a six-month delay in allowing transgender recruits to join the U.S. armed forces, a Pentagon spokeswoman said.

Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said in a statement that Mattis accepted a recommendation to defer transgender applicants until Jan. 1.

The Pentagon ended its ban on openly transgender people serving in the U.S. military in 2016 under the Barack Obama administration. It was expected to start allowing transgender people to begin enlisting this year, provided they had been “stable” in their preferred gender for 18 months.

The prospect of a delay under President Donald Trump’s administration alarmed transgender advocates.

“There are thousands of transgender service members openly and proudly serving our nation today ... what matters is the ability to get the job done, not their gender identity," said Stephen Peters of the Human Rights Campaign.

Last year, then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter cited a study by the RAND Corporation saying there were about 2,500 transgender active-duty service members and 1,500 reserve transgender service members.

Rand’s figures were within a range, which at the upper end reached 7,000 active duty forces and 4,000 reserves.