The repeal of the military’s ban on openly gay service personnel has been lauded, and quite rightly, as a step forward in equality. However, one thing the lifting of the ban on September 20 will not do is help trans servicemembers who continue to suffer the risk of separation if they are open about their identity.
As such, Service Members Legal Defense Network together with the National Center for Transgender Equality have issued guidance ahead of the DADT repeal to reinforce to trans servicemembers that existing military regulations beyond the scope of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” still classify transgender people as unfit for service. Therefore, if servicemembers publicly or privately identify as trans while in the military, access transition-related care or have a related medical diagnosis they are still at risk of separation. Also, transgender identifying servicemembers are still barred from entering the armed forces.
The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) and theĀ National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) urge transgender service members to examine the implications if they choose to come out to fellow service members.
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality says, “While we are happy to see the end of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ we are troubled that the military still expels some members of our community simply because of who they are. Transgender people continue to serve our country honorably, and our country needs to do the same for transgender service members by reexamining this outdated ban.”
“Transgender Americans defend our nation every day, serving with pride and distinction at home and abroad. As we celebrate the end of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ on September 20, we also recognize that ending this terrible law is not enough to secure full LGBT equality in the military, and at SLDN, we are committed to ensuring that every qualified American who wishes to serve our nation is able to do so,” said Army Veteran and SLDN Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis.
Guidance for Transgender Service Members
Read SLDN’s full guidance here.
The military can discharge transgender service members in two ways:
1. You may be considered medically unfit because of Gender Identity Disorder;
2. You may be considered medically unfit if you have had genital surgery.
Transgender people are also impacted by other rules and regulations:
It can be considered prejudicial to good order and discipline to act or dress in ways that don’t meet stereotypes of men and women. For example, service members can be court-martialed for cross-dressing.
There is also a duty to report any change in your medical status. If, for example, you take hormones, or if you have top surgery, there is a duty to report that “change in medical status” to the military. That information could lead to your discharge for being transgender.
Warning about talking to medical professionals and chaplains:
There are currently no protections for coming out as transgender to military mental health, medical and religious professionals. It is not safe to reveal that you are transgender or that you have questions about whether you may be transgender. Some transgender service members have accessed counseling and transition-related care with civilian medical providers without reporting these developments to the military; however current regulation bans this practice. You can speak confidentially to a civilian religious professional, provided that you are specifically seeking spiritual services, such as confession or pastoral care.
Transgender Service Members and VA Health Care
The Department of Veterans Affairs is independent of the military and not subject to the transgender ban. A June 2011 directive from the Department of Veterans Affairs confirms that transgender veterans have access to medically necessary healthcare including sex-specific care, and transition-related procedures. The only exception is for sex-reassignment surgery. Discharged service members should note that the classification of a discharge, whether administrative or medical, should not affect access to VA health facilities. Read NCTE’s guide for further explanation of transgender healthcare in VA facilities.
The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” rule is set to be retired on Tuesday of next week.
For free confidential advice LGBT servicemembers can call the SLDN hotline to speak with a staff attorney: Call 1-800-538-7418 or 202-328-3244 x100.