Donald Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the military has been temporarily blocked by federal courts, but trans recruits are still finding barriers to enlistment, The New York Times reports.
The courts cleared the way for trans people to begin enlisting January 1, but nearly all who have tried are waiting to hear back from recruiters, according to the Times investigation. Some people interviewed by the paper said the delay may be due to bureaucratic issues rather than hostility to trans recruits, but it is still cause for concern.
The LGBT military group SPART*A told the Times that 140 of its members have sought to enlist, but only two have begun serving. Other LGBT organizations said these numbers probably reflect trans experiences across the board. The Department of Defense declined to give the paper statistics on recruitment of trans troops.
Some aspiring service members “have been stymied by the Military Entrance Processing Command, which has rejected some of the applicants and kept others in limbo for months by requesting ever more detailed medical documentation,” the Times reports. This is happening even though some branches of the military are short of personnel.
Nicholas Bude, a trans man interviewed by the Times, went to enlist at an Air Force recruiter’s office in January. “He was in top shape, and had earned two martial arts black belts,” the paper notes. “He had already aced the military aptitude test, and organized the stack of medical records required to show he was stable and healthy enough to serve. So he expected to be called for basic training in a month, maybe two at the most.” But after six months, he’s still waiting for that call.
“We’ve heard people are meeting with mystifying obstacles,” Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, told the Times. “We want to give the military the benefit of the doubt, but at this point so few applicants have been accepted, there is reason to be concerned that there is some passive resistance to the injunctions, and people are getting slow-walked.” The NCLR is representing several current and aspiring trans service members in a lawsuit over the ban, one of four that various groups have filed. The ban is blocked while their suits are heard.
Paula Neira, head of the Center for Transgender Health at Johns Hopkins Medicine, urged recruits to give the military the benefit of the doubt. She told the paper the delays are likely happening simply because military medical personnel have so little experience with transgender issues. “There is no one doing these assessments that is an expert in transgender health, so they have to figure things out as they go along,” she said. “If you are that far outside your expertise, you are going to be very conservative.”