For Transgender Americans, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Not Enough
The discriminatory military policy known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” officially came to an end early this morning.
For 17 years, the law, originally an attempt to help gay and lesbian servicemembers instead forced them into the closet and resulted in thousands of dismissals. The legislation meant that closeted LGB people could serve free of harassment, but that servicemembers could be discharged if their sexual orientation became public.
We should celebrate this victory for what it is: One step along the road to justice for LGBT people.
And while that’s reason to applaud the repeal, it’s vital that we also cannot ignore the fact that transgender people are still unable to serve.
The law banning people from serving in the military based on sexual orientation (included in various forms since the Revolutionary War) was the only thing amended by DADT and then again by its repeal. The U.S. military considers transgender people medically unfit to serve based on diagnosis of “Gender Identity Disorder” and/or genital surgery, labeled by the military as “major abnormalities and defects of the genitalia.”
The National Center for Transgender Equality and The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network issued a joint statement last week reminding transgender servicemembers the risks involved with coming out.
Mara Keisling, executive director of the NCTE says, "While we are happy to see the end of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' we are troubled that the military still expels some members of our community simply because of who they are. Transgender people continue to serve our country honorably, and our country needs to do the same for transgender service members by reexamining this outdated ban."
"Transgender Americans defend our nation every day, serving with pride and distinction at home and abroad. As we celebrate the end of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' on September 20, we also recognize that ending this terrible law is not enough to secure full LGBT equality in the military, and at SLDN, we are committed to ensuring that every qualified American who wishes to serve our nation is able to do so," said Army Veteran and SLDN Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis.
There are a number of things that need to change in order for transgender people to serve openly in the military. According to NCTE, they include:
- Ability to Serve. The Department of Defense should eliminate transgender status and gender identity disorder diagnosis as automatic disqualifications from military service and should ensure that medical fitness standards treat transgender service members equally with all other service members.
- Uniform Code of Military Justice. The Department of Defense should revise the relevant sections of the Uniform Code of Military Justice to allow transgender people to serve openly.
- Registering with Selective Service. The Selective Service System should change its policies to respect gender identity in determining who is required to register with the Selective Service.
- Anti-Harassment Action Plan. The Department of Defense should amend its Anti-Harassment Action Plan to include gender identity and expression and should enforce the plan.
- DD-215 Forms. The Department of Defense should issue and enforce a consistent policy for issuance of an amended Report of Separation (DD-215). Specifically, the Air Force should be required to issue DD-215 forms and the surgery requirement to amend gender on military discharge papers should be eliminated for all branches.
- DEERS Records. The Department of Defense should create a policy for updating the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) system that allows alteration of gender. Additionally, the policy should allow the system to be automatically updated when the underlying service record is changed.
- DFAS Records. The Department of Defense should create a policy for updating the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) system that allows alteration of gender. Additionally, the policy should allow the system to be automatically updated when the underlying service record is changed.
And that’s just for active service. Veterans’ issues are another matter, one that NCTE has helped address.
Let’s not forget our trans brothers and sisters as we celebrate a victory for our LGB ones.
Sam Menefee-Libey is the LGBTQ Advocate with Campus Progress.