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How the Military Discriminates Against Transgender Individuals

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Written by Autumn Sandeen for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

When I joined the U.S. Navy back in 1980, I knew I was transgender. I didn’t know the word transgender, but I knew deep down that's what I was.

Prior to joining the Navy, in 1979, my pentecostal parents considered transgender identities and transgender expressions to be sinful, and made going to "conversion therapy" a condition of living at home. Due to my own internalized transphobia, I thought I was sinful too, so I underwent the therapy, which had the goal of having me become "ex-transgender."

A goal of both gay and transgender conversion therapy is to embrace societal gender role norms, so in my case embracing masculine norms was the goal. It should come as no surprise then that when I enlisted in the Navy in 1980, it was in part an attempt to be the man I wasn't.

Chelsea Manning, who enlisted under the name Bradley Manning—and who in August received a 35-year prison sentence for releasing classified government documents to WikiLeaks—recently gave that same explanation as to why she enlisted.

If either of us had admitted to being transgender before we joined the military, we wouldn't have been allowed to join. This is because Department of Defense Instruction 6130.03, the Medical Standards for Appointment, Enlistment, or Induction in the Military Services, states that "[c]urrent or history of psychosexual conditions, including but not limited to transsexualism, exhibitionism, transvestism, voyeurism, and other paraphilias" precludes induction.

Department of Defense (DOD) policy also discharges currently serving personnel if they admit to, or are discovered to be, transgender. For enlisted service members, Department of Defense Instruction 1332.14 (the Enlisted Administrative Separations) is the controlling regulation. The Army's applicable regulation is Army Regulation 40–501, the Standards of Medical Fitness, which states:

A history of, or current manifestations of, personality disorders, disorders of impulse control not elsewhere classified, transvestism, voyeurism, other paraphilias, or factitious disorders, psychosexual conditions, transsexual, gender identity disorder to include major abnormalities or defects of the genitalia such as change of sex or a current attempt to change sex, hermaphroditism, pseudohermaphroditism, or pure gonadal dysgenesis or dysfunctional residuals from surgical correction of these conditions render an individual administratively unfit [to serve].

This transgender exclusion is backed by case law. The first such case in which such exclusion was discussed is 1981's Doe v. Alexander. Tarynn M. Witten wrote about the case in a 2007 whitepaper entitled "Gender Identity and the Military - Transgender, Transsexual, and Intersex Identified Individuals in the U.S. Armed Forces," saying:

[T]he Army defended its policy of denying enlistment to transsexual persons, arguing that transsexual persons presented a medical problem in that their requirements for hormone supplementation might not be available at some location where they could be assigned.

The 2007 DeGroat v. Townsend decision by the U.S. Southern District Court in Ohio, Western Division, echoed the decision in Doe v. Alexander, finding Joanne E. Degroat, a member of the U.S. Armed Forces (USAF) from 1974 to 1989, medically unfit to serve. In the decision, the court stated that "USAF medical staff encouraged and counseled her to dress in female street clothing when off-base and off-duty" as part of the treatment plan for her gender dysphoria. Major DeGroat was seen attending church in female clothing, and then "was notified that she had to show cause for retention on active duty for substandard performance due to a failure to show acceptable qualities of leadership required by an officer of her grade, based on her wearing female clothing on two instances and subjecting herself to public view." Her separation for service was upheld.