The Military Transgender Ban: Is this Issue Black and White?
When our POTUS tweeted early Wednesday morning, it sent shockwaves through our nation. His tweet was straight to the point, leaving no further explanation. “After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you.”
This tweet has come less than 1 month after Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that gender dysphoria would no longer be a disqualifying condition for military service. There were some who supported this potential policy change and our president wholeheartedly, and there were some who felt this was a devastating blow to our nations progress. However, as I began conducting my research and spoke to different groups of people, I was surprised to learn that many are finding themselves somewhere in the middle.
It is important to note that, as of yet, nothing has been made official. On Thursday, Joint Chief of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford explained, “There will be no modifications to the current policy until the president’s direction has been received by the secretary of defense and the secretary has issued implementation guidance.” However, people are still left with the burning question, what will happen to our transgender military members currently serving? For some, it is all they have.
According to an analysis of federal and state data, there are currently 1.4 million adults in the United States who identify as transgender. Depending on where you gather your research from, the number of transgender individuals currently serving in the U.S. military varies greatly. A Rand Corp. report estimated that between 1,320 and 6,630 active-duty personnel are transgender, while LGBTQ advocates are estimating roughly 15,000. Many argue it is quite difficult to pinpoint an accurate number, because many transgender individuals are not open about their sexual identities, especially in the military. It is worth mentioning that according to Pentagon officials, only 250 service members have applied for gender reassignment surgery since the ban was repealed last year.
In the wake of the announcement last year that the U.S. government would pay for genital reassignment surgery, many became concerned with the overwhelming cost. However, the 2016 Rand Corp. report also indicated that studies show fewer than 0.1 percent of military members were expected to seek treatments that could potentially delay deployments. This would mean only a 0.09 percent increase in military healthcare expenditures.
Even with this estimated slight increase to military healthcare costs, many people are not convinced. They fear that you cannot accurately calculate the cost to our government, because there is no way to accurately determine how many transgender individuals will enlist in the future, or how many will require these medical treatments and procedures. There is also the concern that if they make medical exceptions for one group of individuals, they will need to make allocations for others, ultimately weakening the readiness of our armed forces.
I have had the opportunity to speak with many different people over the last few days, many who are military members themselves. I was interested in learning as much as I could, not only about transgender people and the reasons it may or may not impact our armed forces, but also seeking the opinions of others to see where they stood on this issue and why.
One of the very first people I spoke to on this issue is currently enlisted in the U.S Air Force. He believes he has worked with at least 1 transgender individual throughout his career, but did not ask because he felt it wasn’t his business. He also noted that this individual did not have a negative impact on the flow or readiness of the squadron. This service member expressed great frustration that we are in the year 2017, and still banning certain individuals based on the gender they identify with; individuals who are willing to put their lives on the line for our freedoms. He stated simply, “I don’t care who you are and what you do–as long as you can do your part and help me eliminate the threat while not getting me killed in the process, I will consider you my brother or sister. “
Other service members I spoke with mirrored his thoughts, stating that as long as the individual can meet the fitness requirements, pass their yearly health screen, do their job, and not disrupt the mission, the soldier’s gender identity isn’t their concern. Many have admitted to working side by side with their transgender coworkers without issue.
A current enlisted Marine who is openly bisexual, and has transgender friends in both the civilian and military world, fears that, “the ban would be a slippery slope and if they ban an entire group of people, what’s next? Re-instating DADT (Don’t ask, don’t tell)? Not letting women enlist? Not letting people of color enlist?”
He also addressed the misconception that all transgender service members want to go through the transition surgery or receive hormone therapy during their enlistment period. Many enlisted simply because “they want to serve this country that they love and want to protect the United States of America.”
He feels that, “it boils down to being a decent human being to those who have earned their title or rank, no matter their skin color, who they love, or how they identify. The more open and honest people can be in the ranks, the better overall unit cohesion will be, and ultimately will help mission accomplishment.”
One of the civilian women I spoke with expressed concern that our nation was taking a step back. “I am close to a few transgender people, and for the life of me I don’t know why we need labels. To me they are friends, brothers, sisters, and cousins. I support everyone in their decision on how they live their lives. I thought, as a nation, we were close to understanding diversity in our communities.”
Jaime Cummins of Lewisville Texas, is an openly gay man, and admits that since coming out, not one person has hesitated to accepted him for who he is. However, that is not that case for many people in the LGBTQ community. Many are having to hide who they are, even from their own families, for fear they will be disowned or worse. He adds, “it’s a very emotional roller coaster when you pray to be straight but it isn’t who you are. Couldn’t imagine going though trying to understand your gender identity.” He feels the divisiveness our POTUS is spreading through the country does not feel like appropriate behavior for our nation’s president – and that, instead, he should be striving to bring our country together as one.
There were many individuals I spoke with who had a very different opinion on the matter, expressing the feeling that there is no place for transgender people in the United States Military. A common argument is that Gender Dysphoria is still commonly coded as a mental disorder under DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders V), and all other mental disorders are a disqualifying factor in today’s armed services. However, it is important to note that many physicians feel it should no longer be coded as a psychiatric diagnosis, but rather a medical diagnosis. Some physicians now use the diagnosis, endocrine disorder otherwise unspecified, in order to avoid using a psychiatric diagnosis.
Another issue being raised is that genital reassignment surgery is still considered cosmetic by most insurances. The overall feeling is that our government should not be covering the cost for an elective surgery, just as military medical benefits do not cover other elective surgeries and procedures (elective cosmetic surgery, IVF, alternative treatments etc.). If they make allocations for one, they will have to allow for all.
Many also feel that allowing transgender people to serve, and paying for their genital reassignment surgery, is only incentive for transgender individuals to enlist to have their surgery and treatments paid for. The concern being they would get out after their enlistment without actually performing their job for the entire duration of their contract.
A 16-year Army service member expressed that, “the Army already has plenty of people who are in for the wrong reasons and collecting paychecks and benefits while begrudgingly showing up for work. These are not the type of people that I want to go to combat with.” He also felt it was wrong to force taxpayers who do not believe in that cause to fund transgender operations. Adding that, “it does not respect many conservative and religious groups ideals and values.”
One Air Force Vet stated that, “the military is an entity that has to be precise every time, without mistrust or confusion. You cannot have all of these individual groups, with various needs, when we are supposed to be one united force.”
A Navy Vet, who is gay but served under DADT for 4 years, stated that while he supports transgender people, he is very much on the fence with this situation. “I am not going to support everything simply because they are part of the LGBT culture. Just like I wouldn’t always vote democrat simply because I am gay. But this situation is much bigger than the individual itself.” He added that, “I believe this issue will test this country 100%, because nothing changed when gays were allowed to serve openly, nothing changed when women were allowed to serve, nothing changed when blacks were allowed to serve–a lot has to change in order for transgenders to serve.” He also believes that when you enlist in the military, “you conform to what they want, not what culture, society, or your personal beliefs want. That is what has made the U.S. military so damn successful!”
I had the opportunity to speak with someone currently serving in the Air Force who worked alongside a transgender individual who was in the process of transitioning. I wanted to know if the transition period affected the individual’s work performance or the squadron mission, because that is a crucial piece to the puzzle.
He stated that, due to the nature of their specific career field, when this individual began hormone therapy they were deemed unable to perform the job due to medical requirements and regulations. That also means this individual is unable to deploy. To date, this particular service member has been on hormone therapy and unable to perform their normal duties for 13 months total, all while getting paid the same as those performing their job. He added also that, even though this person was unable to do their job, they still occupied a manning slot that another capable and qualified body could fill. So, in essence, the Air Force would not replace this person, because it appeared that they had the proper manning already. This causes other individuals to work longer hours, take time away from their families and other obligations, and increases their rate of deployment. He emphasized that this individual was very hard to be around because it became very disruptive to the work environment.
He added that the transgender community has a 40% suicide rate, and he feels this shows that “transgender people absolutely have a mental disorder, and the fact that they are openly accepted for being the way that they are, while in the meantime good workers were being kicked out for anxiety and depression, is just not fair.”
He concluded, “personally, I do not believe they should allow transgender people in the military. It’s not because of their beliefs or their views, but it’s simply because to me, they are not mentally stable.” “To serve the military in general, let alone the greatest military in the world, you need to be sharp and you need to be physically, mentally, morally and spiritually strong.”
There are a wide range of opinions with this situation, but many military members and civilians alike, expressed that they do not have an issue with transgender people serving in the military as long as they can fulfill their job. However, they did not feel the government should be paying for their hormone therapy and reassignment surgery as it is considered elective. Also noting that as it is veterans, service members, and their dependents are not having their basic medical needs met, so paying for those elective procedures did not seem appropriate.
Melanie Witt, of Louisiana, says, “I support the transgender community. I do not support the military paying for the medical expenses. I believe it will lead to a less patriotic military and more of a medical benefits convenience. Which a lot of people already take advantage of.” She believes simply that an elective surgery should be treated as such.
She added, “I lean towards traditional values with consideration to the evolving world, and the right for people to be happy as long as they have the understanding that there will always be circumstances and rules.”
One Air Force member stated, “I don’t care if transgenders serve. As long as they are held to the same standard as I am. No preferential treatment.” It was also suggested that a possible solution would be that, individuals who are unable to perform their jobs for the duration of the transition period could be required to extend their enlistment to make up for time lost.
A woman I spoke with, who comes from a military family, stated that, “if we have someone who is physically able to defend our country and they are willing to do so, their gender shouldn’t matter. It’s nobody’s business what genitals are between their legs, what they feel their gender is (whether it matches their genitals or not), or what their sexuality is. From the moment they take that oath, they are an airman, a sailor, a marine, or a soldier. Period.” Adding, that if they are concerned with the cost for the transition process, perhaps it should be a non-covered service, just as it is with most health insurances.
I had hoped to interview a transgender individual on this topic, but those approached declined to comment.
After gathering all of my information and engaging in this topic with people from all walks of life, I am left feeling more confused than ever on where I stand on this issue. Is it really as simple as saying we will or will not allow transgender individuals to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces? I’m not so sure. Is this issue black and white? I don’t believe it is. There appears to be a lot of gray area to this situation. It isn’t cut and dry. I hope that the Department of Defense takes the time to come up with a policy that can satisfy the needs of all people involved. For now, we sit and wait.