There was a sense of jubilation when the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell military policy was shut down. It was heralded as a win for the LGBT community, finally being able to serve their country openly. But drop the T, because as it turns out, transgender people have always been explicitly banned from the military. The inclusion of gay, lesbian and bisexual soldiers was a moment of celebration, but it still left them waiting outside the ranks.
However, a recent comment from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel shows the army is considering a new direction.
Hagel, in a recent interview with ABC News, was quoted as saying: “I do think it continually should be reviewed. I’m open to that, by the way. I’m open to those assessments, because, again, I go back to the bottom line. Every qualified American who wants to serve our country should have an opportunity if they fit the qualifications and can do it.”
This comment has been called a huge step forward, and one that has been noticed by transgender activists. A main component of the Army’s reason to bar transgender persons from the military has been a medical regulation. Genital surgery is grounds for disqualification, and even if surgery hasn’t been conducted, mental health checks are in place to rule out the rest.
This ‘medical issue’ is one that the government has stood by continuously. In the same comment, Hagel was also quoted as saying, “The issue of transgender [service members] is a bit more complicated, because it has a — a medical component to it…These issues require medical attention. Austere locations where we put our men and women in — in many cases, don’t always provide that kind of opportunity.”
Out Serve SLDN, which is a LGBT military organization, disagrees with the idea of a medical component being relevant. They note that the medical science that the military uses to disqualify transgendered people uses data from 30 years ago.
Breakthroughs for transgender people, including hormone therapies, access to positive mental health services, support groups, and, yes, surgeries have come a long way in three decades. SLDN also makes a point to bring up that the labels the military uses are also incredibly outdated. Terms such as “transsexualism,” “transvestism” and “psychosexual conditions” are used, to this day, to describe transgender members.
At SPART*A, another organization for LGBT military issues, Policy Director and former Army Captain Allyson Robinson addressed Hagel’s remarks in a press release:
“We appreciate that Secretary Hagel recognizes that these medical regulations are over thirty years old, are inconsistent with current medical practice, and negatively impact military readiness. They harm our service members and weaken our military.
An estimated fifteen thousand transgender service members currently serve in constant fear and stress: people like Petty Officer Landon Wilson, just back from Afghanistan, who served with distinction until being unceremoniously drummed out simply because of who he is. We have heard story after story of commanders who question these policies because their transgender troops are valued by their units and contribute to their readiness.”
Others disagree with transgender persons being allowed to serve in the military, as they feel it will weaken combat units and create division, though it should be noted that in a number of countries, it hasn’t been an issue.
Very few would accuse the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) of being either weak or disjointed. Yet they’ve included the full spectrum of LGBT soldiers in without sacrificing structure. Similarly, transgender soldiers are allowed to serve openly in the UK and Australia.
A review of policy is a good step forward in bringing these issues to light. The reasons people have for joining the military are vast, and although hard for many of us to understand, being transgender should never be one of the reasons for lacking qualification. The US Armed Forces has a long way to go before they reach full equality, but this is a positive step in that direction.