Another delay for trans troops

  • Wednesday July 5, 2017
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There was no Pride for the Trump administration this year. The president didn't issue a Pride proclamation in June and the month ended with Defense Secretary James Mattis' decision to delay – by six months – the ability of trans recruits to enlist in the military. This is yet another needless setback in what has been a relatively smooth process that was started under Mattis' predecessor, Ashton Carter, and was announced just before the deadline allowing trans people to join the armed services would have ended. Under the Obama administration, the trans military policy was updated June 30, 2016 to prohibit the involuntary separation of troops who came out as transgender. It also allowed them to begin receiving medical care as of October 1, but gave the Pentagon a year to "determine how to begin processing new transgender recruits who want to serve," reported the Washington Post. It was that June 30 deadline that Mattis extended to January 1.

The Pentagon has been dealing with LGBT service members since the anti-gay "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy was repealed in 2010 (it went into effect in the fall of 2011). When the Obama administration updated policies for trans troops, it did not require congressional action or a formal repeal. Rather, it is a policy the military could implement upon approval of the defense secretary. Like the yearslong effort to repeal DADT, top military officials undertook a lengthy review before updating the trans policy. But then, just as the changes were to begin, trans people who want to serve their country are told to wait. More troublesome, according to the Palm Center, an independent research institute that focuses on sexual minority issues in the military, potential recruits will be forced to be untruthful in order to join the service.

"Secretary Mattis' decision to prolong the enlistment ban will have the effect of requiring applicants to lie in order to join the military, as was the case under 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,'" Palm Center Director Aaron Belkin said in a statement. "That makes no sense because, as predicted by all of the research, transgender military service has been a success."

The Palm Center noted that for the past year, transgender troops have been serving openly and have been widely praised by their commanders, as is the case in 18 allied militaries around the world, including Israel and Britain. The center said that service chiefs pressured Mattis to continue the transgender enlistment ban, "despite having no new arguments or data to back up their long-discredited assertions."

Trans service members have been serving, openly and authentically, since October 2016, according to OutServe-SLDN, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing about full LGBT equality to America's military. The organization stated that the "delay is a disservice to the transgender community and to our military as a whole."

The American Military Partner Association, a nonprofit made up of LGBT military families, expressed its disappointment.

"This six-month delay is disappointing because it unnecessarily delays the ability of transgender people to be open about their identity when entering the military," Ashley Broadway-Mack, president of the partner association, said in a statement. "The issue has been thoroughly studied and moving forward with this new recruitment policy is imperative in order for the military to be able to recruit the best talent our nation has to offer."

Anti-gay activists praised Mattis' decision, and continue to claim, falsely, that trans military service undermines unit cohesion. That was the same canard they used during the debate on DADT repeal. LGBT people have always served in the military; they were mostly closeted, of course, because they risked being drummed out on a variety of charges, including being dishonorably discharged. Under DADT (former President Bill Clinton's "compromise" to lifting the ban on open service), troops were supposed to hide who they really were. Not surprisingly, the policy had disastrous consequences, forcing people to work and live in fear of being outed.

OutServe-SLDN estimates that there are more than 14,000 trans individuals currently serving in the armed services. Many are serving openly as a result of last year's policy change and this new delay won't affect them. But it does affect trans people who are standing by, ready to report to duty.

With the death of DADT, attention turned to updating the military's trans policy. Now, with a new administration in charge, the calls for delays likely will continue. Mattis can have his six months, but we don't want to see further postponements to beginning implementation of the new trans enlistment policy.