John M. Becker

With Trans Ban, U.S. Lags Behind in Military Inclusion

Filed By John M. Becker | February 26, 2014 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Allyson Robinson, Brynn Tannehill, DADT, Don't Ask Don't Tell, military, military service, open service, trans service, transgender servicemembers, TransMilitary

trans-military-inclusion.JPGLast week the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, an independent Dutch think tank, released the LGBT Military Index, which the group describes as "the first ever global ranking of countries by inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) service members in the armed forces."

New Zealand, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom took the top honors, while Nigeria, Iran, and Syria have the three least LGBT-inclusive militaries in the world. (No surprise there.)

But what may be more surprising is that the United States earned a mediocre 72.8 (out of 100 possible points), low enough to land the U.S. military way down in 40th place -- behind countries like Colombia, Albania, and Cuba.

The reason? It's partially due to an outdated anti-sodomy provision that still exists in military law and the fact that the Department of Defense apparently doesn't recognize LGBT military groups, but the primary reason is that the U.S. military doesn't allow trans soldiers to serve openly.

The Guardian reports:

"There have been big steps since don't ask, don't tell and the repeal of DOMA," said Joshua Polchar, who helped produce the centre's LGBT in the armed forces index. "But the headline story is that the US continues to lag behind on the transgender issue."

Polchar added that the question of how military services around the world deal with LGBT issues was not purely a question of human rights. "This is also about military effectiveness, as an inclusive and respectful culture benefits straight people, LGBT people and the armed forces as a whole."

The Department of Defense (DOD) states that anyone must be rejected for military service if they have a "current or history" of "transsexualism, exhibitionism, transvestism, voyeurism and other paraphilias" which it defines as "psychosexual conditions". In a separate section of its medical instructions, the DOD says that a "history of major abnormalities or defects of the genitalia including but not limited to change of sex" is also a reason for rejection.

Bilerico Project guest blogger Brynn Tannehill, an experienced Navy veteran who transitioned after she left the service, told The Guardian that in her estimation, 75% of all trans servicemembers are completely closeted to military personnel. And Tannehill said that while the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the sea change in acceptance of marriage equality were encouraging signs of progress in the military, the exclusion of trans soldiers from open service remains a major problem.

"There's a lot more that could still be done," she said, referring to the Defense Department's trans-exclusionary policies. "This is a policy problem caused by a medical regulation that can be changed."

A recent New York Times op-ed highlighted the absurdity and injustice of these policies. Details after the jump.

trans_military2.jpgIn "The Courage of Transgender Soldiers," published in Sunday's New York Times, Australian journalist and TV presenter Julia Baird introduced the world to Ryan, a 23-year-old American active-duty trans sailor whose commanding officers discovered his secret during a deployment:

It was 2 a.m., just a few days before Christmas, in a remote part of Afghanistan. Eight hours into a 16-hour shift, Ryan... was standing tense and alert, watching the footage of soldiers undertaking a nearby mission on a screen in front of him.

Suddenly, a hand clapped onto his back. Wheeling around to look at the face of his senior officer, Ryan knew the moment he had feared had come: His superiors had found out that his enlisted paperwork described him as female. Within three hours, he was on a plane.

Ryan is now back on a base in the U.S., awaiting potential discharge. Much like gay and lesbian soldiers before DADT repeal, his career is very likely over simply because of who he is. But as noted trans advocate Allyson Robinson told Fiona Dawson in the forthcoming web series TransMilitary, the situation for trans servicemembers is even harder that it was for their pre-repeal lesbian and gay counterparts:

"Anyone whose gender presentation doesn't match up with what the chain of command imagines that it should be, or that colleagues imagine that it should be, runs the risk of being interrogated," Robinson said.

In her NYT op-ed, Baird notes that at least twelve countries currently allow open trans military service. Many of them are U.S. allies like Britain and Australia, whose flags had hung over Ryan's control station in Afghanistan.

"I wear an American uniform and I represent a country supposedly defined by liberty and equality," Ryan told Baird. But "my allies are welcome to serve in a way that has most certainly just cost me my livelihood. If these countries' soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines can serve openly and authentically as transgender women and men, why can't I?"

That's a damn good question.

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