An independent panel commissioned by San Francisco State University recommended on Thursday that the United States lift its ban on transgender people in the military. The committee, stating that no medical reasons exist to uphold the ban, appealed to President Barack Obama to issue an executive order that would allow transgenders to serve in the U.S. military as twelve other nations, including Israel, England, Canada, and Australia, have done. The report also cites several federal agencies that already have policies in place for addressing concerns related to transgender people currently serving in the military.
The panel of five, led by Clinton-era surgeon general, Dr. Jocelyn Elders, and ex-Coast Guard chief health and safety director, Rear Adm. Alan Steinman, were assembled by a think tank of the Palm Center, which is based at the university. In their report, they say that the current regulations of the Department of Defense that serve to ban transgenders from the armed forces stem from antiquated beliefs that give transgender military personnel no opportunity to undergo the medical, lifestyle, and hormonal changes they need in order to properly reflect their gender identities and still remain with the service.
Among the outdated tenets on which the ban has been based is the 1960s-era belief that those who identify with a different gender than the one to which they were assigned at birth suffer from a mental disorder known as “transsexualism.” The psychiatric field has since revised that opinion, referring to gender identity issues as “gender dysphoria” and describing the condition as favorable to treatment, but the military’s medical standards and codes of conduct continue to be based on old psychiatric tenets. In addition, the panel found that the ban has also been justified by the difficulty, expense, and distraction that gender identity treatments would cause, even though modern medicine has advanced greatly as has the scope of health problems that the military now covers. The panel also believes that relatively few active and reserve members of the armed forces, perhaps 230 each year, would opt for gender transition surgeries, and that of those, very few would have complications that would prevent their service. The surgeries are estimated to cost approximately $30,000 each.
Former Army Commander and West Point professor, Brigadier General Thomas Kolditz (ret.), who also served on the commission, believes that lifting the ban on transgender service members and allowing them to be open during their service would result in fewer suicides and assaults as well as the enhancement of national security. The report cites the case of Army private Chelsea Manning, formerly known as Bradley Manning, who was convicted of supplying classified information to WikiLeaks, saying that the pressure of hiding her gender identity while a soldier led her to leak the documents in an irrational attempt to end the Iraq War.
No response from the White House was forthcoming, and questions directed their way were referred to the Department of Defense, whose spokesman, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, responded by saying that the Department has no plans to change the policy banning transgender people from the military. The president of the Center for Military Readiness, Elaine Donnelly, spoke out against the lifting of the ban due to her belief that allowing transgender people in sex-segregated situations could lead to sexual assaults of transgender people and invasion of privacy issues for those without gender identity issues.
The lifting of the “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” ban in 2010, which allowed gay and bisexual people to serve openly in the U.S. Armed Forces, sparked the movement among transgender people who advocate for the same rights being extended to them. The Williams Institute think tank, located at the University of California, Los Angeles, has estimated that approximately 15,500 U.S. service members are transgender people who are now hiding their gender identities.
By Jennifer Pfalz