by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
A group of current and former U.S. service members met in Washington, D.C. on Monday, October 20, to tell their stories of coming out as Transgender while serving their country. The stories varied from person to person. Among the group was Captain Sage Fox, a commissioned Army National Reserve officer who transferred to inactive status after telling her chain of command she had transitioned to female while on leave from her initial decades-long service. Also, Army National Guard Captain Jacob Eleazer, who continues to serve as an officer since coming out as a Transgender male - with his official status in limbo, however.
The one common ground, in each of their stories, was that being Transgender never got in the way of doing their jobs. Still, the U.S. military says it won't change its policy banning Transgender troops.
'I still have the capability to kick ass,' said former Senior Chief Petty Officer Kristin Beck, who before coming out as Transgender served with the elite Navy SEALs. 'When you get right down to it, the capability of every individual soldier is what really matters, and I'm fighting for the capability for all those other people.'
The Department of Defense and the White House are backing away from earlier signs that officials were considering changing the ban on Transgender troops.
Nate Christensen, a Pentagon spokesman, confirmed to media this week that no review of the policy has been looked at.
More importantly, perhaps, was the fact that at Monday's meeting, Transgender service members from all over the world, came together to examine the Pentagon's policy of excluding openly Transgender individuals from serving in the military and highlighted the experiences of Transgender troops from Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Sweden.
Earlier this year, a study written by a former U.S. surgeon general and a retired admiral estimated that some 14,450 Transgender personnel are actively serving in the U.S. military.
So what gives? Why doesn't this policy just go away? A key reason could be that the military's Transgender policy is embedded in medical regulations dating back to the outdated notion that gender nonconformity equated to mental illness, a claim scientists and medical professionals since have debunked.
In 1994, the American Psychiatric Association's 'Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders' removed 'transsexualism' from its list of diagnoses, replacing it with 'gender identity disorder.' And, the most recent version of the manual has changed the terminology again, subbing in 'gender dysphoria' and declaring that 'gender nonconformity is not in itself a mental disorder.'
Transgender foreign troops at Monday's conference scoffed at the so-called medical justification for banning Trans people the right to serve. The military can provide diabetics and those with high blood pressure with necessary medical supplies before sending them into 'austere environments,' they said, so why can't they do the same for Transgender service members?
The treatment of Transgender service members in the military was given international attention by way of Chelsea Manning, the soldier convicted of espionage for leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks. The day after her court sentencing, she announced that she is female and is now suing the government to receive hormone replacement therapy.
For Transgender individuals with military experience, there are deeply conflicting emotions about Manning. In some ways the media attention got the conversation going about Transgender people in uniform, but in other ways, the whole situation was cringe-worthy because, as a whole - espionage and Transgender mixed into one service member is too much to handle. Rationally we all, or we should all know rather, that this is fear of the unknown; what is different is bad in America sometimes. One would hope that we learned a thing or two from desegregating the Army and repealing DADT; apparently not.
Concerns have even been raised about changes needing to be made to military protocols if the ban is lifted like the so-called shower question, or what would happen in scenarios that require non-Transgender troops and their Transgender colleagues to disrobe together.
Of course, we all know and can remember the same thing was said in opposition when Lesbian and Gay troops fought to repeal DADT. The fear mongering is quite ridiculous. 'Where will we change if Gays can serve out in the open?' 'Will there be Gay ships in the Navy?' The questions are absolutely ludicrous and nearly five years into the repeal of DADT the military has not had a mass exodus of service members due to inappropriate bunk situations, fear of using the shower and so on.
In May, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told ABC News the ban on Transgender service should be continually reviewed and that he was 'open to those assessments,' an idea the White House also seemed receptive to at the time.
Still, some prominent politicians are speaking out, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is the latest lawmaker to say she would back lifting the ban. According to the Washington Blade, five members of the House Armed Services Committee either support lifting the ban or at least a review of the policy.
But changing the regulation does not require congressional action, as the ban is not a statutory policy like 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' So really, all President Obama need do is sign an executive order. So far the Commander in Chief has remained silent on the issue.
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