US military lifts ban on transgender troops

The US military has ended a ban on transgender troops.

Gay, lesbian and bisexual people have been permitted to openly serve in the US military since 2013, when Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed.

However, the US military continues to ban transgender people from serving under outdated medical regulations – which disqualifies people from service if they have “current or history of psychosexual conditions, including but not limited to transsexualism, exhibitionism, transvestism, voyeurism, and other paraphilias”.

The Pentagon has come under increasing pressure to amend regulations and allow trans people to serve, with Defence Secretary Ash Carter repeatedly promising reform on the issue.

The US Military has today confirmed that the ban would be ended.

Carter said: “This is the right thing to do for our people and for the force.

“We’re talking about talented Americans who are serving with distinction or who want the opportunity to serve. We can’t allow barriers unrelated to a person’s qualifications prevent us from recruiting and retaining those who can best accomplish the mission.”

A statement confirmed:  “The policy will be phased in during a one-year period. Effective immediately, service members may no longer be involuntarily separated, discharged or denied reenlistment solely on the basis of gender identity. Service members currently on duty will be able to serve openly.

“Not later than October 1, 2016, DoD will create and distribute a commanders’ training handbook, medical protocol and guidance for changing a service member’s gender in the Defense Eligibility Enrollment System (DEERS). At this point, the services will be required to provide medically necessary care and treatment to transgender service members according to the medical protocol and guidance, and may begin changing gender markers in DEERS. Prior to October 1, 2016, requests for medical treatment will be handled on a case-by-case basis consistent with the spirit of the Directive Type Memorandum and the DoD Instruction issued today.

“Over the course of the next year, the Department will finalize force training plans and implementation guidance, revise regulations and forms, and train the force, including commanders, human resources specialists, recruiters and service members. Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Peter Levine will work with the military services to monitor and oversee this effort.

“At one year, the services will begin allowing transgender individuals to join the armed forces, assuming they meet accession standards. In addition, an otherwise-qualified individual’s gender identity will not be considered a bar to admission to a military service academy, or participation in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps or any other accession program if the individual meets the new criteria.

“The full policy must be completely implemented no later than July 1, 2017.

“To support service members, medical professionals and commanders during the implementation period, the DoD has set up a central coordination cell which will serve as a central point of contact for technical questions and concerns. The coordination cell is made up of legal experts, policy experts and medical professionals familiar with the issue.”

Staff Attorney Noah Lewis of the Transgender Legal Defense And Education Fund said: “We, along with thousands of advocates across the country, are thrilled to see an end to the outdated and discriminatory transgender military ban. For far too long brave and dedicated transgender military personnel have had to choose between serving their country and being their true selves. American taxpayers have paid a huge price in lost talent. We support the Pentagon’s comprehensive plan to take all necessary steps to implement this new policy throughout the military. Lifting the ban was long overdue.

“The Pentagon’s policy barring transgender people from serving harmed the thousands of transgender people courageously putting their lives on the line despite the constant fear that they could be discharged at any time just because of who they are. Some transgender people paid the ultimate price fulfilling their duty, even as they were barred from being their authentic selves and forced to serve in silence.

“The United States now joins 18 other countries, including our close allies Australia, Canada, England, and Israel, in allowing transgender people to serve openly. This is a huge moment for equality in our nation’s history.

“We commend all of the brave transgender men and women who have sacrificed their lives in silence and all those who are serving our country with distinction today. Like all members of the armed forces who continually put their lives on the line, transgender service members will now finally receive the respect and dignity that come with serving openly.”

Ahead of the move, draft copies of guidelines have emerged in the press that reveal key details about implementation.

The most obvious change is the simple removal of ‘transgenderism’ as a disqualifying characteristic – meaning trans people will be allowed to enlist in the military, and those already serving can no longer be dismissed just for being trans.

But the military’s gendered rules have also been substantially altered.

Under the new rules, female fitness standards and dress codes will apply to trans women, and male fitness standards and dress codes will apply to trans men.

Though not actively punitive, the rules prevent trans people from using their preferred “bathrooms, housing and uniforms” until a substantial way into the transition process.

In order to gain recognition, trans people would need a referral from a medical professional confirming they have been “clinically stable in the preferred gender for 18 months, and are free of significant distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas”.

Transgender people who are taking hormones must have been on the medication for at least 18 months without complications.

The Military Health System already provides counselors and physicians, allowing trans people to continue to receive hormones and treatments as other soldiers already do.

The rules will grant commanders flexibility make some case-by-case decisions with transgender troops across a range of issues, depending on their needs and capabilities. Accommodations could include, for example, allowing transgender troops to use the showers at a non-standard time or providing extra privacy.

However, many of the rules do not extend to those who are just starting the process of transitioning – who would still find themselves bound by their birth gender’s standards in many areas.

Some within the military have raised concern about the short implementation window of the changes, though chiefs point to the minimal disruption caused by lifting Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.