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Transgender persons and transsexuals in the military

The next step after Don't Ask, Don't Tell's repeal:
Allowing transgender persons to openly serve?

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Overview of transgendered persons & transsexuals in the military:

Prior to 1993, the military actively hunted down servicemembers who were lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or transsexual (LGBT). Any that were found were expelled as unfit to serve.

In 1993, President Clinton signed a bill into law creating the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) policy. LGBs were allowed remain in the closet, keep their sexual orientation secret, and continue to serve in the military. Only if they were open about their sexual orientation would they be tracked down and expelled. However, transgender persons and transsexuals were still subject to expulsion even if they did not reveal their gender identity to others.

In late 2011 Congress passed a bill that President Obama signed into law. It terminated the DADT policy on 2012-SEP-20. LGB service members can now serve openly as gays, lesbians and bisexuals. However, by doing so, they run the risk of being unwillingly forced out of the military if a Republican president and Congress reinstates DADT at some time in the future.

Transgender servicemembers and transsexuals are still subject to involuntary expulsion if their gender identity is detected. This is because the military regards heterosexuality, bisexuality and homosexuality as normal and natural sexual orientations. However, they view transgender servicemembers and transsexuals as being medically and/or mentally ill and thus unfit for service.

Sue Fulton, Executive Director of Knights Out, a group of West Point alumni, staff and faculty who supports equal rights rights for all LGBT servicemembers, commented on the work that remains to be done after the repeal of DADT. She said:

"It’s a positive step that gays and lesbians serving our country can no longer be discharged just for who they are or whom they love. Sadly, that is not true for transgender people, who have served -– and are serving -– honorably while sacrificing who they are. Today we are thinking of our trans brothers and sisters, and commit that we will fight for their equality as well." 1

A number of militaries in other countries allow transgender servicemembers to freely and openly serve. They include Australia, Canada, Israel, and the UK. 5

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Support for LGBT servicemembers:

The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) is the main national organization promoting equality for LGBT servicemembers in the U.S.

As of late 2012-SEP, they describe themselves as:

"... a non-partisan, non-profit, legal services, watchdog and policy organization dedicated to bringing about full LGBT equality to America's military and ending all forms of discrimination and harassment of military personnel on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.  SLDN provides free and direct legal assistance to service members and veterans affected by the repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law and the prior regulatory ban on open service, as well as those currently serving who may experience harassment or discrimination.  Since 1993, our in-house legal team has responded to more than 11,500 requests for assistance."

On their "About SLDN" page, they state:

"The repeal of DADT did not change the regulations that bar service for those who identify as transgender. The [Department of Defense] DoD and the military branches continue to view being transgender as a service-disqualifying medical or psychiatric condition. People who identify as transgender and who apply to serve are blocked; those who are serving and are discovered are immediately kicked out. SLDN will continue to advocate for a transgender inclusive military that determines eligibility not on an applicant’s gender identity or expression, but on their qualifications to do the job of defending this country." 2

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Current policies of discrimination against transgender persons and transsexuals:

  • A candidate for military service who openly identifies themself as a transgender person or transsexual will be disqualified because of what the military terms a "psychosexual condition." A waiver may be requested but is rarely, if ever, granted.

  • Previous genital surgery, with the exception of circumcision,  may result in a candidate being disqualified because of what the military calls "major abnormalities and defects of the genitalia." This policy appears to go beyond the rejection of transgender applicans to include many intersexual persons. The latter are persons born with ambiguous genitalia. They are often operated upon as infants in order to make their external sexual organs more closely match the standard female or male appearance.

  • When the military becomes aware of a service member's minority gender identity, he or she is almost certain to be discharged. An honorable discharge is most common. However, if there has been one or more violations of conduct regulations, "other than honorable" or "dishonorable" discharges are quite possible. 3

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2011-JUN-09: Veterans Affairs issues directive concerning transgender and intersex veterans:

The Department of Veterans Affairs issued a four-page directive convering health care for transgender and intersex veterans. It covers:

"2a: all Veterans who are enrolled in VA's health care system or who are otherwise eligible for VA care care, including: those who have had gender reassignment surgery outside of VHA, those who might be considering such surgical intervention, and those who do not wish to undergo gender reassignment surgery, but self-identify as transgender. Intersex individuals may or may not have interest in changing gender or in acting in ways that are discordant with their assigned gender. ..."

"3: POLICY: It is VHA policy that medically necessary care is provided to enrolled or otherwise eligible intersex and transgender Veterans, including hormonal therapy, mental health care, preoperative evaluation, and medically necessary post-operative and long-term care following gender reassignment surgery. Gender reassignment surgery cannot be performed or funded by VHA or VA." 4

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Smooth transition, unfinished business mark first anniversary of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal," LGBTQNATION, 2012-SEP-20, at: http://www.lgbtqnation.com/
  2. "About SLDN," Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, 2012, at: http://www.sldn.org/
  3. "Freedom to Serve: The definitive guide to LGBT military service," Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, Pages 29 & 30, 2011-JUL-27, at: http://sldn.3cdn.net/
  4. Robert A Petzel, "Providing health care for transgender and intersex veterans," Directive 2011-024, Department of Veterans Affairs, 2011-JUN-09, at: http://www.va.gov
  5. Lila Shapiro, "One Year After Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal, Transgender Military Members Still Forced To Serve Secretly," The Huffington Post, 2012-SEP-22, at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/
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Copyright © 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2012-SEP-22
Latest update: 2012-SEP-23

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