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For Transgender Americans, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Not Enough


Obama during the signing of the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

CREDIT: AP Photo / Evan Vucci

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.

Now that the much anticipated repeal is finally taking effect, soldiers are coming out, marching in pride parades, telling their stories, and rightly celebrating.

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serve our country honorably, and our country needs to do the same for transgender service members by reexamining this outdated ban."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 have been intermittent protests around the issue, but for the time being, there’s no end to the service ban for transgender people in sight.

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:

And that’s just for active service. Veterans’ issues are another matter, one that NCTE has helped address.

Navy veteran Autumn Sandeen has courageously told her story to ground these problems in real, lived experience, but there’s been little movement thus far.

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.

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