Transgender in the Military

The military has changed a lot in the past few years, from the eradication of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy, to allowing women to work alongside men and having the first two women graduate from Army Ranger boot camp. While these changes to the ranks have been welcomed by many and criticized by some, similar changes may be extended to the LGBT community. This is not a fight overseas but one here at home.

What few people know is that when the ‘Don’t ask, Don’t tell’ policy was thrown out, it did not change anything for those who are transgender. The National Center for Transgender Equality says that there is an estimate of over 134,000 transgender veterans and 15,000 transgender people currently serving. Nine percent of transgender soldiers that have served were discharged for being transgender or gender non-conforming, though the Pentagon won’t disclose exactly how many have been discharged. A study done by the Pentagon says that transgender people are twice as likely to serve in the military.

Julia Baird of The New York Times wrote in ‘The Courage of Transgender Soldiers’ that the original reason transgender individuals were not allowed in the military was because of military medical codes, not congressional law. The codes stated that being transgender was a psychological disorder and was therefore categorized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders III, which was published in 1980. A new edition of the manual was released in May of 2015 which lessened the term to “gender dysphoria,” meaning that there is no longer a legitimate reasoning for transgender soldiers to be discharged from the military.

Although the military has not recognized the change in code, there have been many accomplishments for the transgender community as of late. According to the Advocate, a website dedicated to spreading news concerning the LGBT community, the fourth ever transgender veteran healthcare clinic opened in Tucson this past December. Sue McConnell, a Navy Veteran from the Vietnam War said on the Advocate, “I think it’s absolutely wonderful. We’re finally recognized by the world and by the VA and for us to have our own special clinic is unbelievable.”

The organization credited with pushing for a majority of these positive changes is an underground military LGBT organization called SPARTA, which stands for ‘Service Members, Partners, Allies for Respect and Tolerance for All.’ The organization has mobilized hundreds of LGBT individuals as well as allies toward this cause, and with the numbers rising, the group seems optimistic about their pursuit of positive change.