A Few Small Changes Could Make the U.S. Military Trans-Inclusive

A new report outlines the logistics of letting the estimated 15,500 transgender individuals already in the military serve openly

marine in uniform
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The U.S. Defense Department may have reversed the "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy for gay service personnel, but transgender individuals serving in the military still need to keep their identity a secret or face dismissal. However, changing that policy would not be difficult or burdensome, a new study finds.

The report, issued by the Palm Center, a San Francisco think tank that researches issues of gender and sexuality in the military, looked at 18 other countries that currently allow transgender individuals to serve and at the U.S. military's experience integrating gay, lesbian and bi people. Based on its findings, the center came up with what it thinks could be a roadmap to eliminating the ban on transgender service. 

Already, an estimated 15,500 transgender individuals are actively serving, and another 134,000 are veterans, according to earlier research from the Williams Institute, a think tank at the University of California, Los Angeles Law School. 

The Palm Center recommendations include updating enlistment regulations that are based on an outdated understanding of transgender identity. Currently, the military's medical standards include transgender-related conditions as disqualifications for military service. But experiencing a difference between your expressed gender and the one you were assigned—what's called gender dysphoria—is now recognized as a condition that can be addressed, rather than a mental illness.

The report also found that providing medical care for transgender individuals does not differ in cost or complexity from the medical care provided to non-transgender individuals. Another simple step the military could take is to promptly issue appropriate uniforms when an individual is ready to change genders.

“From a military officer perspective, we consider honor and integrity to be just essential values,” says retired Army Maj. Gen. Gale S. Pollock, who helped lead the Palm Center report, in a Washington Post article. “But how can we say that when we’re asking these men and women to lie about who they are? That’s very comparable to the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ piece. To me, it’s just wrong.”

The time may be ripe for a change. In May, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that he is open to review of the transgender service ban.

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