Transgender Veterans Talking About Open Military Service

Posted on 25 Jan 2011 at 4:14pm

Lisa Leff of the Associated Press (AP) wrote an article recently that was carried in newspapers and news websites across the country. Thumbnail link: San Diego Union Tribune posting of Associated Press (AP) article: Transgender Vets Want Military Access For Own (January 11, 2011)The name of the piece was Transgender Vets Want Military Access For Own. Transgender veterans are beginning to raise the prospect of open service for transgender people who wish to serve in the U.S. military services.

The repeal legislation for Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) didn’t address transgender service — as it shouldn’t have. There has been federal law that stated, in essence, that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people couldn’t serve openly. There is no federal law barring the service of transgender people — there is only military policy. From the article:

The “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy now heading toward history does not apply to transgender recruits, who are automatically disqualified as unfit for service. But the military’s long-standing posture on gender-identity has not prevented transgender citizens from signing up before they come out, or from obtaining psychological counseling, hormones and routine health care through the Department of Veterans Affairs once they return to civilian life.

Image: Autumn Sandeen holding photo of herself from when she was in the U.S. Navy. Photo of Autumn in uniform is from 1980. Photo by Gregory Bull.So as the Pentagon prepares to welcome openly gay, lesbian and bisexual service members for the first time, [Autumn] Sandeen is not alone in hoping the U.S. will one day join the seven other nations — Canada, the United Kingdom, Spain, Israel, the Czech Republic, Thailand and Australia — that allow transgender troops.

“There is really no question, it’s just a matter of when,” said former Army Capt. Allyson Robinson, 40, a 1994 West Point graduate who has spoken to sociology classes at the alma mater she attended as a male cadet. “There are active-duty, as well as reserve and national guard transgender service members, serving today.”

Monica Helms, the president of the Transgender American Veterans Association spoke at Atlanta’s DADT repeal event about the future prospect of transgender people being able to serve openly.

There are transsexuals serving in the U.S. military — some who were not discovered to have had genital reconstruction surgery when they had their intake physicals. There are some transsexuals who are serving who are not out in their target sex as of yet. There are genderqueer people who are serving who are serving as the sex defined by their genitalia at birth; there are crossdressers who are serving now, hiding their propensity to dress as members of the opposite sex. Again, from the AP article:

No one knows how many transgender people are serving or have served. Neither the Department of Defense nor the VA keep statistics on how many service members have been discharged or treated for transgender conditions or conduct.

The National Center for Transgender Equality has strongly recommended transgender servicemembers should not come out of the closet with the repeal of DADT.

Military regulations state that men and women who identify with or present a gender different from their sex at birth have mental conditions that make them ineligible to serve. Those who have undergone genital surgery are listed as having physical abnormalities. Service members caught cross-dressing on base have been court-martialed for interfering with “good order and discipline,” according to the National Center for Transgender Equality.

About a week or so ago I spoke to a former service member who was discharged for being a transsexual — she received a military discharge code on her DD-214 that indicated she had a “personality disorder” — the same discharge code used for pedophiles.

Employment, housing, public accommodation, access to heathcare (to include transition services), and access to education are all transgender community priorities that are probably higher than open military service for transgender community members, but that doesn’t mean that open military service for transgender community members isn’t on the priority list. Just as the lesbian, gay, and bisexual members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community — as well as their intra- and extra-community allies — are capable of working on more than one community issue at the same time, so too is the transgender subcommunity — and their intra- and extra-community allies capable of working on more than one issue at the same time.

Quite a number of transgender community members strongly stood shoulder-to-shoulder with their LGB community siblings regarding repeal of DADT — it will be interesting to see if lesbian, gay, and bisexual community members will stand as strongly, shoulder-to-shoulder, with their transgender community siblings for open military service for transgender people.

But to be sure though, one day the U.S. will join with Canada, the United Kingdom, Spain, Israel, the Czech Republic, Thailand, and Australia in allowing transgender people to serve openly in the military services. It’s just a matter of time.

[Below the fold: AP video that accompanied the AP article (Photographed by Gregory Bull).]


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