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REPORT: New Defense Dept. Policy Could Allow for Open Trans Service

REPORT: New Defense Dept. Policy Could Allow for Open Trans Service

A recent update to Department of Defense policy could allow transgender Americans to serve openly in the armed forces, according to a new report the Palm Center.

In fact, maintaining the military's longstanding regulatory ban on open service by trans individuals is a "failure to comply" with the updated policy, claims the report from the Palm Center, a research branch of San Francisco State University's Department of Political Science focusing on gender, sexuality, and the military.

The updated policy, Defense Department Instruction 1332.18, Disability Evaluation System, does not directly reference transgender servicemembers, but it does open up what could be a window to open service by eliminating a list of specific characteristics that require administrative or medical-based separation from the military. 

"On August 5 ... the Pentagon eliminated its default lists of medically disqualifying and administratively disqualifying conditions with the release of DODI 1332.18, Disability Evaluation System (DES), and it now takes no position on which specific conditions should be disqualifying for continued military service,” explains the report. “As a result, DOD no longer requires the services to designate transgender identity as grounds for separation. Instead of designating specific conditions that should lead to either medical referral or administrative separation, DOD now largely defers to the judgment of individual services.”

The report, published this month, is accompanied by a letter from retired servicemembers, including a major general and retired Navy SEAL, in addition to LGBT leaders, urging DOD to begin working with the new regulations and allow transgender military personnel to serve openly. 

"First, transgender identity is not a congenital or developmental defect, as affirmed by the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual," the open-service advocates argue in the letter. "Second, transgender identity does not compromise fitness for duty or assignment, as affirmed by a recent study by a former U.S. Surgeon General and retired General and Flag Officers. To comply with the August 5 DOD regulation, the Services must revise their retention regulations to remove transgender identity as a defect warranting administrative separation."

Although the letter calls on DOD to bring its practice into compliance with the new updated policy, the advocates also note that should the Pentagon fail to act, President Obama, as Commander-in-Chief, should issue an executive order explicitly allowing transgender people to serve openly. 

Despite the 2010 repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, transgender people remain banned from military service on the basis of a DOD medical regulation, DODI 6130.03, which considers any gender-confirming clinical, medical, or surgical treatments as"disqualifying physical and mental conditions."  

As the current ban is not a law, but rather a department policy, the Pentagon and White House have the ability to put an end to this rule without relying on action from Congress. Though pressure is mounting and evidence is piling up in support of open service, the Department of Defense has yet to take action on the issue — and a Pentagon spokesman rejected the report’s conclusion that the August changes required DOD to actively welcome trans service members. 

"It was not an all encompassing list,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen told Military Times of the classifications removed in the updated policy. "The deletion of that enclosure does not change or have any effect on the department’s policy regarding separations and consequently does not affect the department’s policy regarding military service by transgender individuals."

Outgoing Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in May said that he was "open" to reviewing the military's ban on open service by trans people, and advocates are now calling on Hagel to formally launch that review before he leaves his post when his successor is confirmed.

"Mr. Secretary, six months ago you promised 15,000 transgender service members and their families a review would happen," said Army veteran and open service advocacy group SPART*A’s director of policy, Allyson Robinson, earlier this month. "We expect you to keep your promise to them." 

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