A new independent investigation into the military’s ban on openly trans soldiers has found “no medical basis” or procedural reason for the ban. Will the Obama administration finally act on this advice, then?
The investigation, conducted by the independent think tank the Palm Center and co-chaired by the former US Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders, examines the US military’s rationale that trans-identifying people are not medically fit to serve in the military and finds it lacking a sound scientific basis.
Despite the ban on openly gay soldiers being repealed in 2010, a ban on trans military service personnel remains in effect under different provisions to those that underpinned the infamous Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law.
In the new report, one of the most detailed of its kind ever, the Transgender Military Service Commission carried out a thorough investigation into all of the reasons the Pentagon gives for barring trans servicemembers, including a trans person’s psychological and medical needs. The report found that the Pentagon makes a number of claims that do not match with the medical understanding of trans identity.
“[There] is no compelling medical reason for the ban,” the report states, saying that the ban is in fact expensive for the military to keep in place and that it is an “unfair barrier to health care access for the approximately 15,450 transgender personnel” who are currently serving in the United States military.
Right now, if a servicemember discloses his or her gender identity they will be discharged from the military regardless of whether they have an otherwise clean record or exemplary service. This means that trans soldiers will often hide their identities, causing them severe emotional distress. This also puts them at higher risk of blackmail, emotional trauma at the hands of other servicemembers and higher risk of unemployment and hardship once they leave the military.
“Medical regulations requiring the discharge of transgender personnel are inconsistent with how the military regulates all other medical and psychological conditions,” the report says.
“We looked hard for any type of sound rationale and found none. Reforming the policy is really a simple matter of updating references to outdated medical science and removing unnecessary barriers to enlistment and retention,” said Dr. Joycelyn Elders.
The report also points out that, when it comes to other psychological issues, the military has moved to update the regulations to reflect the latest in medical thinking. This isn’t the case with trans identity, which the medical consensus says does not necessarily predict psychological problems or conditions that would make a member of the military unfit to serve. As such, this means the military is applying different standards to how it treats trans people despite having no sound medical basis for those differences.
The report also highlights that personnel who aren’t trans are readily able to access reconstructive surgery and other medical help. Trans servicemembers are specifically prohibited from accessing medically necessary surgical treatments.
Crucially the report also outlines that, were the military to lift its ban, current rules and regulations would allow the military to adequately govern trans service. Where alterations or considerations will need to be made, in terms of housing policies and instructing other soldiers about the change in policy, they can be planned for and accommodated by following the examples of other nations and how they have integrated trans servicemembers without problems or massive expense.
What does the White House have to say about the report? Not much. On Thursday, the White House referred the matter to the Department of Defense, with a spokesperson quoted as saying: “At this time there are no plans to change the department’s policy and regulations which do not allow transgender individuals to serve in the U.S. military.”
Given the amount of political power that was needed to repeal the DADT ban on gay servicemembers, it seems unlikely the Obama administration will readily take up the issue of trans military service. That doesn’t mean that equality groups are easing off the pressure though, with the Human Rights Campaign one among many groups issuing a call for the Pentagon to take action now.
Photo credit: Thinkstock.