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That scenario may become an unfortunate reality. On July 26, 2017, President Trump announced, via a series of tweets, that transgender people would no longer be permitted to serve in the military. This announcement ended the Department of Defense (DoD) policy changes that began under President Obama in 2015.
In July 2015, the DoD announced a RAND corporation review of DoD policy toward transgender service members. Policy at the time treated the physical and psychological aspects of transgender identity as a means to disqualify individuals from joining the military (accession) and a means to discharge those already serving.
This review concluded that openly serving transgender service members would have “relatively small” impacts on cost, readiness, and unit cohesion. RAND recommended that the DoD allow transgender people to serve openly and recommended policy changes in the areas of accession, retention, separation, and deployment. DoD accepted these recommendations and began implementation on June 30, 2016.
The final piece of this implementation, accession of transgender recruits, was scheduled to begin on July 1, 2017, nearly six months into the Trump administration. In a little reported change, Secretary James Mattis put a hold on transgender recruit accession beginning June 30, 2017 — almost a full month before President Trump’s Twitter announcement and just one day prior to the date scheduled during the Obama administration.
Because we don’t collect sexual orientation or gender identity information in the U.S. Census, it’s challenging to estimate the true number of transgender active duty service members and veterans. A 2016 RAND corporation study estimates 2,450 active duty and 1,510 reserve service members — nearly 4,000 currently serving. However, the National Center for Transgender Equality puts the figure at 15,000 active transgender service members and more than 134,000 transgender veterans.
There are many reasons why people choose to join the military, but the vast array of benefits offered can be lifesaving for transgender service members and other groups who have historically been marginalized, faced barriers to accessing health care, or experienced high rates of homelessness. As with other marginalized groups, transgender people may have limited options if they would like to attend college or receive advanced job skills training.
Military service presents all service members with benefits such as:
• Education and Training Benefits
• Post 9/11 GI Bill – including tuition, fees, housing, books, and supplies at colleges and universities.
• Department of Labor apprenticeship programs for discharged veterans
• Veteran’s preference in federal hiring
• Healthcare Benefits
• Primary and specialty care through the Veterans Administration (VA)
• Mental health care
• Dental and vision benefits
• Emergency Assistance
• Homelessness assistance and prevention
• Emergency financial assistance in a crisis
The importance of these benefits cannot be overstated.
But pro-equality organizations are fighting back against the president’s discriminatory directive. Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN have filed for an immediate halt to the ban, and the ACLU filed for a preliminary injunction, citing, “Without a preliminary injunction to preserve the status quo, plaintiffs’ health and careers — and the health and careers of thousands of other transgender service members and qualified individuals who wish to serve — will be irreparably harmed.”
Military service shouldn’t feel like the only reliable way to obtain employment and benefits for transgender people. But those who choose to serve should be able to — without fear of losing their livelihoods.