Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

Trans Servicemembers: Coming Out May Cause Discharge

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | September 14, 2011 9:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics, The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: NCTE, SLDN, trans servicemembers, transgender servicemembers

The National Center for Transgender Equality and the Servicemembers' Legal Defense Network today issued a joint press release noting that coming out may still lead to discharge for transgender and transsexual service members. Of course, those who have been following the issue already knew this, but in the hoopla over the end of the anti-gay Don't Ask, Don't Tell military policy, those who haven't been following closely may have missed this part.

The press release also contains some useful information for trans servicemembers. SLDN's guide, a link to which can be found in the press release after the jump, makes clear the distinction between DADT discharges and discharges for trans status.

Discharges for "sexual gender and identity disorders" are classified as administrative rather than medical, despite the inclusion of this category under medical regulation. As a result, transgender service members may be faced with lack of access to VA health facilities. "Sexual gender and identity disorders" do not qualify for disability under DoD regulations.

I also note that, at the National LGBT Bar Association conference last week, one of the plenary discussions concerned the legal efforts to overturn DADT and how they came to fruition. The panelists included Paul Smith of the mega-firm Jenner & Block, M. Dru Levasseur, Transgender Rights Attorney for Lambda Legal, Prof. Beth Hillman of the Palm Center, Jim Leipold of the National Association for Law Placement, C. Dixon Osburn, former ED and co-founder of SLDN, and Jon Davidson of Lambda Legal.

Mr. Levasseur explained the legal status of trans servicemembers, and noted that the administrative basis for trans discharges served as the strategic rationale for separating out efforts to repeal the statutory ban of Don't Ask Don't Tell. He noted that efforts to overturn the ban on trans service were proceeding separately. I was glad to heard that, but I was skeptical, since I heard nothing from the other panelists about their strong commitment to efforts to overturn the ban on trans service, and got the impression that people were about to fold up their tents and go home after declaring victory. I also heard nothing about the efforts of Lt. Dan Choi and GetEqual, and how that played a role after the DADT repeal was declared dead in September 2010 by many political observers. Of course, I jumped to my feet and asked about these curious omissions. I was told that of course the efforts of Lt. Choi and GetEqual were important, which I was glad to hear acknowledged. I was also told that I was right to fear that the servicemember advocacy organizations would do little to move forward on overturning the trans service bans. No one jumped in to contradict that panelist.

However, I am heartened to see that NCTE and SLDN teamed up to issue this press release. That is a positive sign. I wonder what Servicemembers United might be up to? I was told that they're working on something, but didn't get any details.

Here's the press release:

Washington, D.C. - As the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" makes open service possible for gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members, transgender people are still unable to serve openly. Existing military medical regulations, unrelated to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," classify transgender people as unfit to serve. Service members who publicly or privately identify as transgender, access transition-related care or have a related medical diagnosis remain at risk for being discharged. Transgender people interested in serving in the armed forces are barred from entry.

The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) and the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) urge transgender service members to examine the implications if they choose to come out to fellow service members.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality says, "While we are happy to see the end of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' we are troubled that the military still expels some members of our community simply because of who they are. Transgender people continue to serve our country honorably, and our country needs to do the same for transgender service members by reexamining this outdated ban."

"Transgender Americans defend our nation every day, serving with pride and distinction at home and abroad. As we celebrate the end of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' on September 20, we also recognize that ending this terrible law is not enough to secure full LGBT equality in the military, and at SLDN, we are committed to ensuring that every qualified American who wishes to serve our nation is able to do so," said Army Veteran and SLDN Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis.

Guidance for Transgender Service Members

Read SLDN's full guidance here.

The military can discharge transgender service members in two ways:

1. You may be considered medically unfit because of Gender Identity Disorder;

2. You may be considered medically unfit if you have had genital surgery.

Transgender people are also impacted by other rules and regulations:

It can be considered prejudicial to good order and discipline to act or dress in ways that don't meet stereotypes of men and women. For example, service members can be court-martialed for cross-dressing.

There is also a duty to report any change in your medical status. If, for example, you take hormones, or if you have top surgery, there is a duty to report that "change in medical status" to the military. That information could lead to your discharge for being transgender.

Warning about talking to medical professionals and chaplains:

There are currently no protections for coming out as transgender to military mental health, medical and religious professionals. It is not safe to reveal that you are transgender or that you have questions about whether you may be transgender. Some transgender service members have accessed counseling and transition-related care with civilian medical providers without reporting these developments to the military; however current regulation bans this practice. You can speak confidentially to a civilian religious professional, provided that you are specifically seeking spiritual services, such as confession or pastoral care.

Transgender Service Members and VA Health Care

The Department of Veterans Affairs is independent of the military and not subject to the transgender ban. A June 2011 directive from the Department of Veterans Affairs confirms that transgender veterans have access to medically necessary healthcare including sex-specific care, and transition-related procedures. The only exception is for sex-reassignment surgery. Discharged service members should note that the classification of a discharge, whether administrative or medical, should not affect access to VA health facilities. Read NCTE's guide for further explanation of transgender healthcare in VA facilities.


SLDN FREE HOTLINE: Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender service members with questions are urged to contact the SLDN hotline to speak with a staff attorney: Call 1-800-538-7418 or 202-328-3244 x100.

ABOUT SLDN: Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) was established in 1993. In addition to working on repeal, SLDN offers free, confidential legal services to those impacted by the discriminatory law. We have received more than 11,000 calls for assistance to our legal hotline.

ABOUT NCTE: The National Center for Transgender Equality is a national social justice organization devoted to ending discrimination and violence against transgender people through education and advocacy on national issues of importance to transgender people. By empowering transgender people and our allies to educate and influence policymakers and others, NCTE facilitates a strong and clear voice for transgender equality in our nation's capital and around the country. The National Center for Transgender Equality is a 501(c)3 organization.

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Angela Brightfeather | September 14, 2011 10:40 AM


Upon reading your post, I was totally dismayed to not have seen any reference to the work that TAVA (Transgender American Veteran's Association) has been doing for the last 10 years. I was equally depressed about the fact that no mention was made that neither NCTE or SLDN would be talking about this issue, had it not been for TAVA bringing it to their doorsteps and asking them what they were doing about it, over 5 years ago.

That being said...I would never dispute the help and cooperation that TAVA has received from NCTE during the course of obtaining the new VA Directive concerning Trans Vets. I do dispute other organizations now jumping into the fray, after they have had their problems taken care of with the overturn of DADT, and only after that fact are now willing to pay some attention to Transgender Service members and Veterans. Even so, I welcome them to the fight and look forward to encouraging them to get involved in the future and further justify the excellent job they have done for GLB people. Their participation is greatly appreciated and looked forward to.

I will let others regale you with the facts about what has led up to this point and how TAVA led the fight alone for years. But to bring this to the present status, TAVA is very concerned at present about what might happen in the future, only because we are acutely aware of how Trans people were left out of the DADT fight and not mentioned in legislation or in the planning of the repeal process.

No place within the Transgender Community, do we face the totally unique and complex problems of defining under what conditions Transgender people can function, than in the military. I say this for one reason that is most likely not even being considered by others. We are having to deal with two legal systems (Civilian and the Uniform Code of Military Justice UCMJ), and the fact that in our struggle for equality and not throwing members of our community under the bus, the issue of military service literally begs for the separation of CD's and TS's at the most basic levels of every day life.

Compromises will have to be made that will endanger the unity of our community and it's founding principals of equal and fair treatment for all gender diverse people, despite how they express themselves. Some of these compromises are so basic in nature that most people have not even thought about them to this point....such as, if post ops are allowed to serve and have military uniforms and civilian clothes hanging next to each other (always in good order) in their barracks closet, will CD's also be able to do the same thing, when both closets are subject to normal military inspections on a regular basis? Or how do CD's and TS's get on and of their posts when on pass or during off duty hours safely?

These are very detailed questions that demand consideration. SLDN knows the military, but they don't know the Trans experience. NCTE knows the Trans experience, but they don't know anything about military life, schedules, UCMJ regs, or court martial proceedings. TAVA knows both the Trans experience and has had the military experience and how to deal with the issues of both. That is why your not mentioning TAVA in your post Jillian, is so fundamentally disappointing. After all, TAVA has been here for our community for almost 10 years and before any group even thought that a Transgender Veteran actually existed. Now it is our community that needs TAVA at the table with these other groups and they need the support of our community to make that clear, because TAVA has been this communities voice for all those years.

We at TAVA look forward to continuing our work for Transgender Veterans by confronting the issue of Transgender people serving proudly in all the US Military branches, which is only a continuation of the work we have been doing. Our members in TAVA, such as Life Members Ms. Babs Caspar Siperstein and Ms. Jane Fee, would be the first to say that TAVA should be at any table where this conversation is to be continued.

If there is one thing that we found out in TAVA many years ago that is worth mentioning it is, you can have a lot of doors slammewd in your face inside the beltline if your a Trans person. But they aren't going to slam any doors on a Veteran who hasd served their country. As a Transgender organization and the only one that has been dealing with our issues this way, that has put us in a very useful position and we proved that with the TAVA Survey that shook a lot of people, the Veterans March to The Wall on two occasions, the only Trans organization to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown in Arlington and lastly, the only organization of almost any kind who has successfully comleted their mission of guaranteeing Transgender Veterans the respect and service they earned from the government they served, with the new Directive issued by this administration. We now look beyond our original mission and extend it to include making sure that all Trans people can serve their country proudly.

Angela Brightfeather | September 14, 2011 11:11 AM


I also want to mention that SLDN may appear to be confronting this issue right now, but in fact, SLDN has been serving Transgender members with legal advice and help for years now and has usually had a Transgender person on staff who can recognize the important issues that many members of our community have asked for help on, who are serving on active duty at present. Their assistance and help have served our community very well and the work they have done is a crucial service to our people, although in the past, they will be the first to admit that when it comes to Transgender people in the military, it has been very hard to be able to accomplish anything in light of the fact that nothing about their status has really changed for the better. A fact that I am sure dissapoints them as much as it does our entire community.

I would like to add something else to what Angela so wonderfully wrote about. With all the things TAVA has accomplished, we have been given very little credit for our work. In the scheme of things, that's not important. The VA directive was a long and hard fought victory that will save lives. NCTE was very important with its implementation. We still have a few issues to iron out, but NCTE will be with us along the way.

TAVA was also the ones who have come up with the Moment of Silence for those who still have to serve in silence. Over 2000 people have committed to have a Moment of Silence at their Sept 20th celebrations. SLDN has informed me that Aubry will have theirs at the SLDN event, and there will be Congress people in the audience. He has also sent out an E-mail to all of the SLDN members to ask them to do the same. Jenny Boylan is talking to GLAAD to see if they can publicize it. It's become a big deal.

And yet, it is just a small gesture, but one that will educate people. I cannot tell you how many LGBT and straight people who have said they didn't know trans people were not included in DADT. It's a tiny educational moment, a small investment in time, but one that can make a difference in drumming up support in the future.

If you wish to show your support go to: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=257492897611441&view=wall¬if_t=event_wall and click on "Attending." Let's see if we can get 3000 before Sept 20.

Dear Monica:

I'm sorry that I didn't mention TAVA. I was responding to the NCTE/SLDN press release, and I would be glad to give equal attention to any press release from TAVA. Thanks for all of your great work over the years on trans military issues.


Angela Brightfeather | September 14, 2011 3:46 PM


Thank you so much and your correct, it was actually the press release that left us out.

Because TAVA is more member oriented and we have an All-Volar force of members, we have the drive, but like many of our brave people in the military, it is unlikely that we would go around blowing our own horn as much as some. It comes from that "can do" attitude that provides it's own rewards when the mission is accomplished. I will admit that it may sting a bit to be left out of the parade. But it bothers us the most if we find that we don't have room at the table to help plan the battle. We feel that TAVA and it's members have earned their place the hard way at the tip of the spear.

This is the EXACT SAME crap they trotted out over a year ago. It still sends the same message of “wait for us to do something, then thank us for doing something”. If the higher ups do not know there’s an issue, then there’s not an issue to deal with.
Meanwhile, those that are experiencing stress associated with GID and hiding go without treatment during one of the most stressful times for active duty military personnel.

The military can discharge transgender service members in two ways:
1. You may be considered medically unfit because of Gender Identity Disorder;
>Going to Medical and speaking to a therapist is stressful enough as it is. So far with the situations that I’ve dealt with so long as the service member states that they are desirous of remaining until their end of service, have no serious behavioral issues and are not in any trouble the Medical department therapist treats with therapy sessions of about 1 a month unless there is also depression and/or PTSD issues. Some of the military therapists will hand off an active duty type to a civilian military therapist or refer them out to a civilian therapist that takes active duty TRICARE. Sometimes they use the Military OneSource to find a therapist. On average someone with GID see’s a therapist once a month. …currently, one of my former junior’s see’s a therapist 3 to 5 times a week. Our ‘job’ is aircraft electronics…and cleaning out the helicopters cabin after it comes back. They did one tour in the sandbox and cleaned out the helo’s 12 hours a day in a squadron that took verticals in, brought horizontals back. …they’re a vegitarian now. You would be too after cleaning out one of those. GID is stressful, but combat related PTSD is worse. PTSD+GID that’s untreated? That’s hell.

2. You may be considered medically unfit if you have had genital surgery.
>Except male circumcision and instances of female circumcision… Piercings actually count here if you hit a serious bible thumper. BUT having worked with a woman who was a CAIS (complete androgen insensitive) 46XY type…. She was in for …a while. She knew she was CAIS and her gender confirming surgery was her choice. Honestly, the only way she got caught was a Lesbian Gynecologist. I shit you not. Yeah, I know…. That incident outted two people at one time.

Transgender people are also impacted by other rules and regulations:
It can be considered prejudicial to good order and discipline to act or dress in ways that don't meet stereotypes of men and women. For example, service members can be court-martialed for cross-dressing.
>Except for losing a bet, Crossing the Line, Order of the Rock, Blue Nose, Blue Ass, Sail Past…did I miss anything? Oh yeah, Order of the Ditch ceremonies in the US Navy guys will not wear women’s clothes. (don’t ask me where they hell they get all of that lingerie a thousand miles out to sea!)
HOWEVER! Did you ever look at what women wear in the military? The working uniforms?? Wanna know something? Most of them are wearing men’s boxers. Well, at least in the Navy. Ships usually only carry tighty whiteys and boxers. Most of the girls preferred boxers.

There is also a duty to report any change in your medical status. If, for example, you take hormones, or if you have top surgery, there is a duty to report that "change in medical status" to the military. That information could lead to your discharge for being transgender.
>Of everyone that I’ve helped that was in a special medical status, those that were on HRT (whether DIY or under doctors care) none of them showed any adverse impact on any medical test, physical test or any outward appearance. Well, the MtFs did get a little fluffy up top.

Honestly I don’t think any of those organizations are doing anything. If they were they would be pushing a certain LtCdr who’s in the Merchant Marine and who’s been in the Persian Gulf a lot the past few years.
For you kids out there who only know that Popeye was a Merchant Mariner, should know that Popeye as a Merchant Mariner during WW II WAS part of the US Navy while deployed in a warzone.
So we have 1 LtCdr floating around, the only Transgender Active Duty service member who’s Transgender and deployed in a warzone.

Y’all have a good CJ, I’m going back to work and Raise HELL! The only way I can.

Thanks for jumping to your feet and asking the questions, Dr. Weiss. It sounds like there was no one else there to ask those questions, so if you hadn't been there...

Win or lose, it's heartwarming to know there are people like SLDN, NCTE, and you out there advocating on behalf of the rest of us.

I hope you treat yourself to some healthy delicious food you really like.

Have a good weekend,

Thanks, TAVA. You're working hard for our community. I really appreciate it!