“Don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal does little for transgender community
By Daisy Arriaga-Lopez
We are told that serving in the armed forces is one of the most honorable things a U.S. citizen can do. We are told that each American has an option of whether or not to serve. But what happens when there’s a law telling you that you’re not allowed? The “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, created in 1993 during the Clinton administration, eliminated the possibility for individuals who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual from serving openly in the military.
On Dec. 22, 2010, President Obama signed legislation that repealed the DADT policy. However, while the repeal made strides in advancing equality for gays and lesbians, it seems to have done little for transgender people. The “T” in “LGBT” seems to be ignored.
According to the Support Plan for Implementation, a government document issued Nov. 30, “Transgender and transsexual individuals are not permitted to join military services. The repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ has no effect on these policies.”
Despite this statement, Harper Jean Tobin, policy counsel for the National Center for Transgender Equality, said that nothing officially bans transgender people from serving. She said, “The ban on open service for transgender people is not mandated by any law passed by Congress. It is the result of archaic military rules that treat transgender people as mentally and medically unfit—rules that are based on outdated, unfounded stereotypes.”
According to the Associated Press, transgender recruits are deemed ineligible for service because of “mental conditions”—namely, gender identity disorder, or GID, which, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), is “a conflict between a person’s actual physical gender and the gender that person identifies himself or herself as.”
Autumn Sandeen is a transgender Persian Gulf War veteran on the Provisional Board for GetEQUAL, an organization that aspires to empower the LGBT community. Sandeen advocates for the transgender community, which is so often separated from the LGB movement.
Currently her main focus is changing the discharge code weight for those who are discharged for being transgender. “If you come out as transgendered in the military, you are going to be discharged,” she said. “There is no question about that. You are subject to getting a discharge with a discharge code that stands for personality disorder.”
This is a dishonorable discharge and affects the individual’s record for life. The classification of a “personality disorder” is also given to pedophiles—and to any condition “where you are a danger to others,” Sandeen said. Other conditions that fall under “personality disorder,” according to the NCBI, are obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, paranoid personality disorder and schizoid personality disorder.
If a person has had sexual reconstructive surgery, they are not allowed to serve in the military. Sandeen expressed that the government has a fear of this biological unknown, saying, “They don’t want to directly address it.”
Some individuals say they have experienced discrimination for being trans in the military. Some of them belong to the Transgender American Veteran Association, an organization that works to ensure that trans veterans are provided with the proper medical treatment for their conditions and advocates for social rights, including the ability for transgender individuals to serve in the armed forces. The veterans that TAVA serves range from individuals who were transgender before entering the service to those who sought surgery afterward.
Denny Meyer, media relations director for the Transgender American Veteran Association, stated, “Transgender veterans want to be treated with respect and dignity. … A veteran has earned their benefits, period.”
Transgender individuals receive hormone treatment on a regular basis, which is a costly medical expense. The treatments are covered by the benefits of the Veterans Association. However, it is up to the discretion of the primary care physician to decide whether or not the patient will receive the treatments. This is where the biases of the physicians affect the veterans. Meyer explained that the doctors in these Veterans Association Medical Centers are constantly being rotated, so each time trans veterans walks in for their treatment, they stand the chance of being turned away.
The United States is one of the few countries that has experienced a clear conflict in allowing people who identify as part of the LGBT community to serve. Meyer said, “Canada, which is the most progressive country of all for gay rights, even will allow a transgender person serving in the military to go, ‘I’m transgender, I’d like sex reassignment surgery,’ and the Canadian military will provide it!” He continued, “In Israel, one of the most conservative countries, they have transgender people serving in the military.”
There is still some confusion about why transgender people cannot serve in the military. “Transgender people do not serve wearing dresses and high heels. … They wear combat gear just like everyone else,” Meyer said. It should not matter what your sexual orientation is or what your anatomy indicates. It is incredible that being transgender supposedly indicates a mental disorder. If individuals are willing to risk their lives to serve, why should it matter who they love or what their gender history is? Tobin echoed this sentiment, saying, “Just like GLB service members, they are fit to serve, and it is wrong to force them to live a lie in order to serve their country.”
Daisy Arriaga-Lopez is a sophomore journalism major who wants to transcend hatred. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.