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.