In a report released today by the Palm Center — a research branch of San Fancisco State University's Department of Political Science focusing on gender, sexuality, and the military — a commission led by former U.S. surgeon general Dr. Joycelyn Elders declared there is "no compelling medical reason" for the military to continue its ban on transgender service members.
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 Department of Defense medical regulation, DODI 6130.03, which considers any gender-confirming clinical, medical, or surgical treatments as"disqualifying physical and mental conditions."
"Removal of the military's blanket ban on transgender service members would improve health outcomes, enable commanders to better care for their troops, and reflect the federal government's committment to reducing disparities in health care access for transgender people," the report reads. The report elaborates on the results of a study funded by a $1.35 million grant awarded to the Palm Center from trans billionare and veteran Jennifer Pritzker, to study the potential impact of lifting the ban.
"Arguments based on mental health are not convincing rationales for prohibiting transgender military service, and [the ban] is not consistent with modern medical understanding," the report argues. "Scientists have abandoned psychopathological understandings of transgender identity, and no longer classify gender non-conformity as a mental illness."
The report goes on to explain that the diagnosis "transsexualism" — which is one of the specific conditions listed in the regulations banning trans service members — was replaced in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual by the term "gender identity disorder" in 1994, and once again changed to the diagnosis gender dysphoria in 2013. "While gender identity disorder was pathologized as an all-encompassing mental illness, gender dysphoria is understood as a condition that is amenable to treatment," the report adds.
The commission also dispelled arguments that suggest that the military providing hormone replacement therapy treatments and gender-confirming surgeries would disrupt deployment plans, and come at too high a cost to the federal government. Outlined in the report, the commission points to the expensive medical treatment non-military personnel often receive, comparing that to the relatively inexpensive and sparingly used treatment of trans service members.
Center for Military Readiness President Elaine Donnelly, a woman who had previously argued that the human rights violations at Abu Ghraib happened as a result of women being allowed in the military, and was one of the loudest opponents of the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, voiced opposition to Palm Center's report.
"This is putting an extra burden on men and women in the military that they certainly don't need and they don't deserve," Donnelly told the Associated Press. Donnelly also suggested that allowing transgender servicemembers would lead to an increase in sexual assault. However, those dire predictions haven't come true in other countries which have allowed trans people to serve openly for as many as 10 years. Australia, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Israel, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, and the United Kingdom all allow transgender citizens to serve openly in the nation's armed forces, according to OutServe-Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.
The fact is, transgender individuals already serve in the military, albeit closeted and often without necessary medical care. The University of California Los Angeles's Williams Institute estimates that nearly 15,500 transgender individuals are currently serving in the military.
The report also includes three policy recommendations, most of which could be implemented without Congressional action by President Obama as Commander in Chief: lift the ban on transgender military service, do not write new medical regulations, and base new administrative guidance on foreign military and U.S. government precedents.
"With respect to medical regulations," the recommendation reads, "The Commander in Chief should order the Defense Department to eliminate bars to transgender military service by updating enlistment regulations that disqualify conditions that are defined physically ('abnormalities or defects of the genitalia such as change of sex') and mentally ('psychosexual conditions, including but not limited to transsexualism'). These blanket enlistment bars should be deleted, along with other disqualifications that may arise from medically appropriate treatment of transgender-related conditions."
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a spokesman for the Defense Department, responded to the report, telling the AP, "At this time there are no plans to change the department's policy and regulations which do not allow transgender individuals to serve in the U.S. military."
See the AP's report on the study, including an interview with Palm Center Executive Director Aaron Belkin, below.