By Debbie Gregory.
In March, the Army issued a directive that protects transgender soldiers from being dismissed by mid-level officers. The decision for discharge must now be made by the service’s top civilian for personnel matters.
Then, last month, the Air Force announced a similar policy. This puts the U.S. Military one step closer to allow transgender people to serve openly.
“Though the Air Force policy regarding involuntary separation of gender dysphoric Airmen has not changed, the elevation of decision authority to the Director, Air Force Review Boards Agency, ensures the ability to consistently apply the existing policy,” Daniel Sitterly, a top Air Force personnel official, said in a statement.
An estimated 15,500 transgender people serve in the military, according to the Williams Institute, a legal think tank that studies sexual-orientation and gender-identity issues.
The new Air Force policy requires discharge decisions based on gender dysphoria transgender identification to be reviewed by high-level officials at Air Force headquarters.
Transgender troops have always been treated differently from their gay counterparts. Openly gay soldiers were blocked from service — or dismissed from the ranks — on the grounds they would undermine unit cohesion. Being transgender is classified as a mental disorder that makes someone unfit to serve.
Air Force Secretary Deborah James expressed openness to allowing transgender troops to serve.
During a February question-and-answer session with troops in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter suggested that being transgender alone should not disqualify someone from the military. Carter’s remarks were in response to a question by Jesse M. Ehrenfeld, a Navy lieutenant commander and physician based in Kandahar, about transgender service. Ehrenfeld asked the question because he has treated a transgender service member and interacted with others.
“I am continually struck by how these individuals, who risk their lives every day to support our mission, live not in fear of the enemy, but rather in fear of being discovered for who they are,” said Ehrenfeld.
Several close allies of the U.S. military, including Great Britain and Israel, allow transgender troops to serve openly.
The Pentagon, as part of a review of medical eligibility rules, is examining the transgender issue. A decision on that is not likely for months.
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Paving the Way for All Who Wish to Serve: Military Connection: by Debbie Gregory