In June, 2016, under the administration of President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced the lifting of the Pentagon’s ban on transgender people serving openly in the U.S. military (Rosenberg, 2016). In 2015, Carter had said of the ban: “We have transgender soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines – real, patriotic Americans – who I know are being hurt by an outdated, confusing, inconsistent approach that’s contrary to our values of service and individual merit” (Rosenberg, 2015). Matthew Rosenberg (2016) of The New York Times noted that the decision to allow transgender people to serve openly “pushes forward a transformation of the military that Mr. Carter has accelerated in the last year with the opening of all combat roles to women and the appointment of the first openly gay Army secretary," Eric Fanning (para. 3). Secretary Carter also announced that the Pentagon would pay the medical costs of those in uniform who decide to undergo gender transition (Rosenberg, 2016).
The Administration of President Donald Trump, however, has rolled back LGBTQ+ rights on a number of fronts, including in the military. President Trump announced (via Twitter) a ban on transgender people serving in the military in July, 2017. Two months later, in August, Trump released a memo directing the Defense Department to develop a plan to discharge transgender service members and to maintain a ban on the recruitment of transgender people to the military. The implementation plan was put into effect in 2019.
Under the new regulations, transgender troops cannot serve openly in their preferred gender unless they have already been diagnosed with gender dysphoria or have medically transitioned. The Palm Center (2019) estimates that only about 7 percent of currently serving transgender troops will be “grandfathered” in under the new regulations. It also bans new recruits from enlisting if they have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria and received medical treatment (such as hormone therapy or gender confirmation surgery). Those diagnosed with gender dysphoria who have not transitioned may join the military but must serve in their “biological” sex.
Also, under the new regulations, the Defense Department will no longer cover transgender-related healthcare for service members (Thoreson, 2019).
The Palm Center estimates (based on data released by the Pentagon) that there are nearly 15,000 transgender personnel serving in the U.S. military (Belkin & Mazur, 2018). At least 18 other countries allow transgender people to serve openly in their militaries, and a number of studies support the notion that transgender people can be integrated into the military without negatively affecting combat readiness and unit cohesion (Palm Center, 2014).
Opportunity for Research: What have been the results of the institution of the new ban on transgender people in the U.S. military? What have been the experiences of countries where transgender personnel are allowed to serve openly in the military?
Belkin, A., & Mazur D., (2018, February 13). Department of Defense Issues First-Ever Official Count of Active-Duty Transgender Service Members. Palm Center. Retrieved from https://www.palmcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/14700-Transgender-Troops-.pdf
Palm Center (2014). Report of the Planning Commission on Transgender Military Service.
Retrieved from http://www.palmcenter.org/files/Report%20of%20Planning%20Commission%20on%20Transgender%20Military%20Service.pdf
Rosenberg, M. (2015, July 13). Pentagon Moves to Allow Transgender People to Serve Openly in the Military. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/14/us/pentagon-plan-would-let-transgender-people-serve-openly.html?_r=0
Rosenberg, M. (2016, June 30). Transgender People Will Be Allowed to Serve Openly in the
Military. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/01/us/transgender-military.html
Thoreson, R. (2019, May 24). Trump Administration Takes Aim at Transgender Healthcare. Human Rights Watch. Retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/05/24/trump-administration-takes-aim-transgender-healthcare