A pair of transgender military veterans just won an important recognition victory that advocates say could have wide-reaching effects on how the U.S. armed forces treats its transgender members and veterans.
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey announced Tuesday that the U.S. Army will allow two trans veterans — Jennifer, a former Sergeant Major in the U.S. Army and Nicolas, a former National Guardsman — to update the names on their discharge papers to reflect their current legal names, granting them access to their earned veteran's benefits at home and at work.
Originally, the Army Board for Correction of Military Records had rejected name change requests from Jennifer, who served for 29 years, and Nicolas, who served for nine years. But this week, the board's deputy assistant secretary, Francine Blackmon, overturned the decision, allowing the two veterans to update "DD-214 Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty," a key identifying document for veterans.
The decision has potentially far-reaching implications for trans veterans across the U.S., notes ACLU-NJ. Currently, trans service members largely remain silent about their gender identities due to the Department of Defense's instruction 6130.03, which lists any gender-affirming treatment, surgery, or behavior as evidence of a "mental illness" that makes a candidate not fit for duty.
The ban, similar to the now-repealed "don't ask," don't tell" policy that barred gay, lesbian, and bisexual soldiers from serving, is not a law, but a departmental policy that the Department of Defense can end without Congressional action. Outgoing Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has said he is "open" to reviewing the ban, though no formal review process has yet been announced.
Bolstered by a growing amount of research that has found no medical reason to disqualify openly trans military recruits, trans advocates are pushing to see an end to the ban in 2015.
Prior to this week's announcement from the U.S. Army, the most recent development in repealing the trans ban came from an updated Defense Department Instruction: Section 1332.18 in the Department's Disability Evaluation System removed a default list of medically and administratively disqualifying conditions that included identifying as transgender. This means that military services are no longer required to designate trans identity as grounds for separation, but instead may largely defer to the judgments of individual commanding officers.
This update, along with wins like Jennifer's and Nicolas' are changing the future prospects of trans military members and veterans.
"This small change in a personal document means a huge change for veterans like me," Nicolas said in ACLU-NJ's statement. "I served to protect American principles, and the principles of justice and equality have been served by this decision."
"This is about much more than a change of paper," Jennifer added. "This is about the relief of knowing that when I apply for a job, or a home loan, or anything where my veteran status is relevant, I can do it as myself."