The Associated Press is reporting that the Pentagon is finalizing plans to lift the ban on transgender people from serving in the military. The Obama administration has remained relatively quiet on the issue, but reports from earlier this year suggested that the military was open to reviewing their policy on transgender servicemembers.
As Zach Ford wrote at ThinkProgress in December, the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” allowed gay and lesbian people to serve openly in the military, but the branches each retained their own policies specifically banning transgender people. In August of last year, the Department of Defense reversed similar rules — one of which stipulated that anyone with”defects of the genitalia” was unfit for service. These rules were replaced with guidelines stipulating that people with medical conditions would have to have their conditions reviewed before being accepted for service, but only disorders that directly affected an individual’s ability to serve could be cause for rejection. Being transgender does not fit that description, as the American Psychiatric Association no longer considers it a mental illness.
This shift cleared the way for a review as to whether or not the individual branches’ rules still made sense. They didn’t. As Ford continued:
The only obstacle blocking transgender service then is the fact that the individual branches have not updated their policies to match the DOD’s. The Palm Center report notes that by maintaining categorical prohibitions, the services are enforcing regulations that “are too sweeping” because they do not distinguish conditions that impair fitness for assignment or duty from those — like being trans — that don’t. In other words, transgender identities remain a disqualification for purely tautological reasons.
As John Oliver described just over two weeks ago, the military’s policy on transgender individuals serving amounted to a recruitment poster reading: “I Want You. Maybe. After We Talk About Your Genitals for a Bit.”
Of course, this policy makes no sense. We currently have a military in which commanding officers are thanking transgender soldiers for the invaluable work they have done — and acknowledging their gender identity — while serving them discharge papers.
There are currently an estimated 15,500 transgender individuals serving in the military. Clearly, they have not diminished the combat readiness of our troops. Nearly every argument for continuing to spend time and energy discharging them that doesn’t boil down to “I think they’re gross,” and that isn’t an argument that deserves serious consideration. The only one that doesn’t — that transgender individuals often rely on hormone treatments that could become unavailable in long-term combat posts, is belied by the fact that other individuals with similar needs are not barred from service. As The Washington Post outlined in April:
Privately, some military officials argue that transgender soldiers could not serve in hardship posts, because they rely on hormone treatments. Transgender advocates point out that troops with other medication requirements, such as diabetics, are not automatically disqualified from service.
Being transgender says nothing about one’s ability to serve in the military. Lifting the ban makes good moral sense and good military sense. It’s high time the Pentagon finalized the change.