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Transgender Military Equality: The Time Is Now

by Guest Author on August 12, 2013

in Analysis,Op-Ed,Transgender Life In The Military

Post image for Transgender Military Equality: The Time Is Now

Brynn Tannehill argues that nearly three years following the repeal of DADT, why the time is right now for transgender military equality  

For over a week, The New Civil Rights Movement has been publishing articles about transgender people currently serving in the military. Each of the service members profiled has gained because they are all very good at what they do. This is also something we saw near the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Many commands turned a blind eye toward lesbian and gay service members because they did not want to lose capable people who significantly contributed to unit effectiveness.

At the same time, each of these transgender service members knows that it is only a matter of time before they are kicked out. Eventually, they will fall under someone who won’t judge them based on their character and abilities, but on preconceived notions. Such judgments are antithetical to our nation’s cultural core values. If biases based on how a person looks or sounds are morally indefensible in general, why should they be acceptable in the case of transgender people?

We realize the military must have medical standards. However, these regulations should be based on sound medical science and empirical evidence, and not based on naked animus toward a suspect class of people.

The original rationales for the policy are growing thin. The military has stood by the original rationale that:

“It is the intent of these standards to . . . remove from . . . active service . . . those individuals possessing medical defects which will significantly interfere with their duty performance or station assignability.”

The logic behind this is nearly 40 years old and based on assumptions which are no longer true. Since the policy was put in place the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that transgender people are part of a suspect class, lesbians and gays are allowed to serve openly, and the psychiatric community has de-listed being transgender as a disorder.

The supposed issue of “duty performance” is equally antiquated (and wrong), considering three of the openly the transgender people I have profiled have spent the better part of the last decade in Iraq, Afghanistan, or are in the middle of their sixth deployment to CENTCOM on board a Navy ship. Eleven other countries already have transgender service. All of the major English-speaking countries (UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada) deploy transgender service members all the time.

The recent changes to the DSM-5 make it clear: “gender nonconformity is not in itself a mental disorder.” The majority of stress felt by the trans men who told their stories over the past week did not come from being transgender, but from the omnipresent threat of discovery and expulsion from the profession of arms they excel at. Kristen Beck did 20 years as a Navy SEAL. Lynn Conway was an Assistant Director (2-star equivalent) at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) for over a decade.

Obviously, there are transgender people who can hack it at any level.

The argument that the military has a right to discriminate on the basis of sex is going away too. One of Leon Panetta’s last acts as Secretary of Defense was to lift the ban on women in combat, meaning that all career fields will be open to women (and men) in the near future. If sex (and gender) don’t matter, then why should gender identity matter either?

During the DADT fight, the fall-back position of those opposed to lifting the repeal was that it would have a negative effect on good order and discipline. The Palm Center found that the repeal had no impact on good order, morale, or retention. Given both the relative size of the transgender community to the LGB community, and the fact that many transgender people are both perceived as their target gender AND also as heterosexual, there is no reason to believe that inclusion of transgender people will have a measurable impact on good order, discipline, morale, or retention either.

Supposedly “pragmatic” objections to transgender service are thrown out by homophobic/transphobic individuals like Elaine Donnelly. When transition would occur? How will transition affect deployments? What about uniforms and sex segregated facilities? How do we prevent the transition period from affecting readiness? What about health care? Who would willing serve beside a transgender person?

For every “impossible” or insurmountable issue, there are many potential solutions. Eleven other countries have already answered all of these questions. Two studies (Kerrigan, Yerke & Mitchell) in the past year examined possible answers. Three more are due by the end of the year. The Palm Center just received a 3 year, $1.35 million grant to study the issue and develop potential solutions. In short, it’s not rocket science. There is a laundry list of valid answers to every single question, and the list will only get bigger in the next few years.

It is increasingly difficult at an intellectual level to support the status quo. It goes against everything that the medical and psychological communities have to say about transgender people. It goes against what we observe in transgender individuals who are serving. It goes against our understanding of how transgender people should be treated under the law. It even goes against our deeply held convictions that individuals should be judged on how well they do their job, and not on factors which have no bearing on that ability.

When we as a people allow harm to come to others through our own inaction or biases, it is a moral failing. We have run out of viable excuses for the status quo when it comes to transgender people in the military. The people I represent have constantly asked when our time will come. With the repeal of DADT, the end of DOMA Article 3, and excuses growing thinner by the day, we have our answer.

The time is now.


Brynn at work cropped adjusted (1)Brynn Tannehill is originally from Phoenix, Ariz. She graduated from the Naval Academy with a B.S. in computer science in 1997. She earned her Naval Aviator wings in 1999 and flew SH-60B helicopters and P-3C maritime patrol aircraft during three deployments between 2000 and 2004. She served as a campaign analyst while deployed overseas to 5th Fleet Headquarters in Bahrain from 2005 to 2006. In 2008 Brynn earned a M.S. in Operations Research from the Air Force Institute of Technology and transferred from active duty to the Naval Reserves. In 2008 Brynn began working as a senior defense research scientist in private industry. She left the drilling reserves and began transition in 2010. Since then she has written for OutServe magazine, The Huffington Post, and Queer Mental Health as a blogger and featured columnist. Currently, she is on the board at SPART*A. Brynn and her partner currently live in Xenia, Ohio, with their three children.

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{ 1 comment }

Pamela1947 August 12, 2013 at 9:23 pm

Indeed the time has come!!! As Brynn has shown all the objections have been proved to be baseless!! So all we are left with is pure and simple discrimination!! With a professional service we need all the capable personal that is available to fill all the needs. So good sense dictates allowing transgender people to serve to help meet the needs!!

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