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The History of Transgender Military Service and How the Ban Changes It

The Supreme Court approved Trump’s plan yesterday to restrict transgender individuals from serving in the military. This 5-4 decision overturns the previous decision by lower courts in numerous states to prohibit the ban as discriminatory. How does this ban impact transgender people serving currently? What changes? To answer that question, the history of transgender military personnel needs to be talked about.

In the 1900s, when an individual was identified as a gay man or lesbian woman, they could face anything from psychiatric experimentation to receiving a blue discharge.  This discharge was reserved for service people who were queer and African Americans, straddling the line of honorable and dishonorable. There was nothing explicitly reserved for transgender people, however, with the exception of the rules given to military recruiters.

Recruiters were instructed to reject those with a “history of major abnormalities or defects of the genitalia including but not limited to change of sex.” To the U.S. military, it was a ‘psycho-sexual condition.’

However, in 2014, the defense secretary announced the transgender ban was to be reviewed, due to the success of lesbian/gay/bisexual service men and women after “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ended in 2011 and to see if medical insurance should be used for transitioning procedures.

In 2015, the U.S. air force released a statement claiming that transgender individuals will not face discharge if they are serving. The Pentagon’s stance on recruiting transgender individuals was still the same, but service people claimed transgender folks transitioned while serving and were supported.

In 2016, the Pentagon ended the ban on transgender people serving openly in the military. This allowed transgender people to receive the same medical insurance to cover any costs of transition. Those aiming to apply for the military were asked to have a “stable” gender identity for 18 months prior to registration.

On July 1, 2017, transgender people were officially allowed to apply to the military. However, in late July 2017, President Trump tweeted that transgender individuals would not be applicable for any military service on the basis of expensive medical needs and their presence would disrupt the military. This was rebutted by General Joseph Dunford Jr. who claimed the Obama administration’s policy was not modified. LGBT+ groups sued President Trump on the grounds of discrimination.

In March of 2018, the Trump administration released a modified version of the ban where transgender people who have undergone or are going to undergo transition are not applicable to serve. Military personnel would need to serve in their biological sex, and only under certain circumstances would transgender individuals be able to serve.

In 2019, one of the injunctions that halted the ban from being implemented was reversed due the ban not including all transgender troops. However, no change will be occurring soon. Four court cases against the ban have yet to be heard, and there is an injunction in a federal case in Maryland.

Ultimately, despite the Supreme Court deeming the transgender military ban constitutional, this injunction applies nationally. This injunction in place is why transgender people are given the ability to maintain their body autonomy, be able to become who they want to be physically and be able to live their lives as they please. Discharging a person who is risking their life with their job, who loves their job and their country so much that they go through dangerous and terrifying ordeals, but are too terrified to be their true self because of the people they work for and with is depressing. It is dehumanizing. It is un-American. Our troops make America safe and free, yet America does not give our troops that same respect.

How does this ban impact transgender people serving currently? If a person is not serving under your biological sex or had sex reassignment surgery, this injunction is letting them continue to serve. If a transgender person is applying to the military, the likelihood of acceptance is low.  What changes? Honestly, everything. America worked itself past blue discharges, past “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and past transgender troops. With this injunction gone, transgender people need to fight for basic rights.

They fight for us. Let’s fight for them.

Photo via First to Know

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Mia Boccher
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