The Next Big Military Civil Rights Issue: Transgender Service

The Next Big Military Civil Rights Issue: Transgender Service
By DOROTHY J. SAMUELS
FEBRUARY 23, 2015
New York Times
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Defense Secretary Ashton Carter got it right on Sunday when he said that nothing but “suitability for service” should “preclude” transgender people from serving openly in the military — in other words, ability to do the job.

During a visit to Kandahar, Afghanistan. Mr. Carter said his “fundamental starting point” was the desire “to make our conditions and experience of service as attractive as possible to our best people in our country.” He added that he was “open-minded” about “personal lives and proclivities” provided service members “can do what we need them to do for us. That’s the important criteria.”

Mr. Carter’s use of the phrase “personal lives and proclivities” was unfortunate, since it suggests that being transgender is a lifestyle choice. And it’s too early to know whether Mr. Carter will follow up his remarks with a prompt review of the ban that prevents the estimated 15,500 transgender service members now in uniform from serving openly. The ban keeps many from seeking hormone treatment or other medical care for fear of being discovered and tossed out of the military.

Mr. Carter’s predecessor, Chuck Hagel, said last May that he was “open” to reviewing the unjustified policy against transgender service — but then failed to follow up.

On a more encouraging note, Mr. Carter did not reflexively trot out the standard excuse for continuing discrimination, as Mr. Hagel did: Namely, the idea that complex medical issues make it impossible for transgender people to serve in “austere” combat conditions.

That excuse was debunked last year by a panel of former military officers and experts on gender and health. It concluded that “there is no compelling medical rationale for banning transgender military service,” and “eliminating the ban would advance numerous military interests, including enabling commanders to better care for their service members.”

Will the rules preventing transgender service members from serving openly go the way of “don’t ask don’t tell”?Context counts. In December, Secretary of the Air Force Deborah James said it was “likely” the ban on transgender troops would be evaluated “in the next year or so.” And, similar to Mr. Carter, she said that “anyone who is capable of accomplishing the job should be able to serve.”

It looks like there’s a faction within the Pentagon that’s willing to give transgender troops the respect they deserve.