Advocates say ban is archaic and discriminatory
There are 18 different nations that allow transgender individuals to openly serve in the military, but the United States is not among them. However, Ashton Carter, U.S. secretary of defense, has not ruled out the option of lifting the ban.
During a question and answer session in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Feb. 22, Carter said he was “open-minded” about allowing transgender individuals to serve in the military. Carter also spoke at a press conference at Fort Drum March 30, where he said the ban on transgender military personnel is under review.
“Those who can contribute to our mission should be allowed to serve,” Carter said. “And that’s the principle from which I begin with respect to this particular matter and every other matter.”
The White House echoed Carter’s position during a press briefing.
“I can tell you that the President agrees with the sentiment that all Americans who are qualified to serve should be able to serve and for that reason, we here at the White House welcome the comments from the Secretary of Defense,” Josh Earnest, White House press secretary, said.
In 2011, Congress repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a government initiative that prevented gay, lesbian and bisexual service members from openly serving in the military, making it so gay and lesbian service members were permitted to be out and serve. However, individuals who identify as transgender were not granted the same opportunity.
Luca Maurer, the program director for the Center for LGBT Education, Outreach and Services at Ithaca College, described transgender individuals as feeling like they don’t fit with their birth assigned sex.
“Their inner sense of who they are doesn’t … correspond to the sex they were pronounced at birth,” Maurer said.
Captain Sage Fox is a transgender activist who served in the U.S. Army. Fox originally enlisted in the army in 1993 as a man but after serving a tour in 2012, chose to go on leave and begin her transition to female. During her transition, Fox realized the military had not yet lifted the transgender personnel ban and believed her military career to be over.
However, in 2014, she was called back to duty. She informed her commanding officer that she would come back as long as she would be allowed to serve as a woman. Fox said she was told by her commanding officer that wouldn’t be an issue because she was a “good soldier.” Two weeks after returning to duty, Fox said she was dismissed and placed on inactive status without any explanation.
“They just sent me away,” Fox said.
The five branches of the military each have the power to determine who meets their enlistment requirements and do not allow openly transgender individuals to serve within their ranks. The military reserves the right to determine what makes an individual fit for military service, and they do place restrictions on mental and physical health.
One condition used to deny transgender individuals the ability to serve in the military is “gender dysphoria.” According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, used to diagnose mental disorders in the U.S., gender dysphoria is “a marked difference between the individual’s expressed/experienced gender and the gender others would assign him or her, and it must continue for at least six months.”
Gender dysphoria is a mental condition associated with transgender individuals, Mauer said. Because gender dysphoria is classified as a mental disorder, the military has the power to ban transgender individuals on the grounds that they do not meet the military’s mental health standards.
Maurer said while gender dysphoria is classified as a disorder, it doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with transgender individuals.
“Most of the stigma and discrimination they [transgender individuals] face is actually because society is still learning what [being transgender] means,” Maurer said.
While the military does not permit transgender personnel to serve, that doesn’t mean transgender individuals are not serving in the military. The Palm Center released the Transgender Military Service Commission report, published by three retired military generals in March 2014. The report revealed there were 15,450 transgender individuals serving in the U.S. military as of March 2014, based on the data collected through survey results. The report explains how the ban of transgender military personnel is out of date and how lifting the ban would benefit the service members currently hiding their transgendered identity in order to serve.
“Removal of the military’s blanket ban on transgender service members would improve health outcomes, enable commanders to better care for their troops, and reflect the federal government’s commitment to reducing disparities in health care access for transgender people,” the Palm Center report stated.
Fox argued the ban is hindering the military. She said she felt she would be a better soldier now that she is able to accept herself in her chosen gender, and that because she is stronger mentally, she would be able to serve the military better.
“I feel more complete now as an individual and more comfortable in my own skin, which I never had before,” Fox said.
According to a BBC News article, the U.S. Department of Defense is the world’s largest employer. Maurer said since the military is such a large employer, banning transgender individuals further limits their employment opportunities.
“Unemployment and underemployment are such huge issues for transgender people,” Maurer said. “The military represents a terrific job opportunity with lots of room for advancement … and benefits to support you and your family.”
In addition to the debate over whether gender dysphoria makes a person unfit to serve the military, The Associated Press reported some anonymous Department of Defense officials have raised objections about lifting the ban on transgender individuals serving in the military. These objections focus on which gendered bunks and bathrooms transgender individuals should be permitted to use and how their presence would impact how small units work together. However, Fox argued the military’s objections to permitting transgender individuals to serve in the armed forces are part of an outdated belief system.
“It’s the same arguments and same old tropes they have given for the last seven or eight years,” Fox said. “If we do this we’re going to lose soldiers, it’s going to affect the quality of our service. They said the same thing about racial integration, the same thing about gender integration, the same thing about women in combat arms, the same thing about repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It’s the same story with the same people over and over again.”
The Department of Defense did not respond to a request for an interview. However, the Department of Defense’s Human Goals Charter states the military and Department of Defense will work toward making “military service in the Department of Defense a model of equal opportunity for all regardless of race, color, sex, religion, sexual orientation, or national origin.” The document was signed on April 28, 2014, by the leaders of the five different branches of the military and the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Defense. But while the military has pledged itself to act as an equal opportunity model, it still refuses to allow transgender individuals to openly serve in the military.
However, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James was quoted by USA Today on Dec. 10, 2014, as saying she believes the military’s policy on banning transgender personnel will change in the future.
“From my point of view, anyone who is capable of accomplishing the job should be able to serve,” James said.
Master Chief Petty Officer Mike Stevens of the Navy has not publically supported lifting the ban. But on March 12, The Navy Times reported Stevens said the Navy would have to make an effort to ensure that transgender individuals would be treated with dignity, like any other recruit, if the military lifted the ban on transgender military personnel.
“I don’t pass judgment on any sailor and I don’t hold anything against sailors but what I do as a leader is set conditions … for them to be successful, plain and simple,” Stevens said.
Fox said the countries that already allow transgender individuals to openly serve in the military have disproved the American military’s reservations about allowing transgender people to enlist.
“Here we are saying we’re the greatest military in the world and yet we’re not,” Fox said. “Our actions proved we’re not. How can we say we’re fighting for equality when we’re not?”
TinaMarie Craven is a senior journalism major who is not craven when it comes to writing about the military. You can email her at [email protected].