Let’s ask

By |2014-03-27T09:00:00-04:00March 27th, 2014|Opinions, Viewpoints|

by Gwendolyn Ann Smith

Most know the modern history of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals in the military: President Clinton’s signing of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and President Obama’s repeal of same are well known. Yet when Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell ended on the 20th of September, 2011 — in spite of right-wing pundits who made pointed references to Corporal Klinger from the old M*A*S*H television show — the repeal did not apply to transgender members of the military.

While Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell dates back to only 1993, the ban on transgender members of the military was enacted in the 1960s.

It’s probably important to note how far things have changed since then. This was the era of the Vietnam War, a time before the all-volunteer army I grew up with. This was also a time when transgender people were viewed very different from today: then, transgender people were typically viewed as having a mental disorder, and care was viewed as to costly, difficult, and disruptive for the military to manage.

In my own experience, I’ve known quite a few transgender people who have served. Many of the male to female transsexuals I know served in the military, assuming erroneously that the military would “make a man out of them.” I should note, too, that most transgender people join the military with the same sense of honor and duty of any non-transgender service member.

In 1952, Christine Jorgensen became the world’s best-known transsexual when the New York Daily News announced her to the world under the headline “Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Beauty.” Last year Chelsea Manning was convicted of espionage due to actions taken while serving in the United States Army.

Between Christine and Chelsea are decades of service by proud transgender service members. It is estimated that there are over 15,000 transgender people currently serving in uniform. The vast majority of these are not out, fearing discharge. Meanwhile, in over a dozen countries around the world, transgender people serve openly in the military.

An important step has been taken that may change all this.

The Transgender Military Service Commission, co-chaired by former U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Jocelyn Elders, has recently released a report on transgender members of the military — and they concluded that the ban on transgender people serving in the military is based on unsound, outdated data. They found policies that are inaccurate, inconsistent, and clearly exclusionary.

“We determined not only that there is no compelling medical reason for the ban,” says the commission, “but also that the ban itself is an expensive, damaging and unfair barrier to health care access for the approximately 15,450 transgender personnel who serve currently in the active, Guard and reserve components.”

The commission further determined that facilitating gender transitions for active and reserve service members “would place almost no burden on the military.” The commission estimates that 230 transgender people each yet would see surgery, at an average cost of about $30,000. Meanwhile, such could help prevent suicide and other issues with transgender military personnel.

The aforementioned Chelsea Manning, I should note, claimed that the stress of keeping her gender identity secret contributed to her leaking information. Where this is truth or not, it is worth considering how requiring transgender service members to remain closeted could be dangerous.

“When you closet someone, you create a security risk, and we don’t need another Chelsea Manning,” Retired Brigadier General Thomas Kolditz said in an interview with the Air Force Times. “If I were a commander, I certainly wouldn’t want people in my unit in a position to be blackmailed.”

When I was in my senior year of High School, the military came calling. Each claimed I should enlist, offering me money for college, training, and other great things. At the time, I was deep in my own closet. I did think about the ability of the military to somehow force any of my gender dysphoria to melt away. I also considered what it would be like to be stuck in the military and still feel the same way. I turned down all their offers.

Nevertheless, I look up to those who make up our military, and who do the job of keeping our country safe. I’m further buoyed to consider how many members of the military are transgender. I wonder when, or if, they will be able to serve openly: just because this commission has released this report does not mean that this ban will be lifted.

The White House has referred all questions about the report and the status of transgender service members to the Department of Defense — and a spokesperson for the Department of Defense, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, has declined to say much more than the White House.

Said Christensen, “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.”

The right wing is lining up against this, with the usual pundits and others speaking out. World Net Daily’s Matt Barber gave his usual vitriol, “we’re moving into the next treasonous phase of the left’s San Francisco-style sabotage of the world’s once-greatest military. In a few short years, ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ has become ‘do tell, do flaunt.'” All he missed was a reference to Corporal Klinger.

It is no longer the 1960s, though, and military policies enacted then should be re-examined. Much like Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, it’s time for policies on transgender service members to be changed, and this commission should be the first big step forward.

About the Author:

BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.