the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) more than a year ago, transgender
Americans are still required to serve in silence, often at great personal
risk.1 Issues for transgender individuals may come up at the time of
enlistment, appointment or commissioning into the armed forces, or may arise
for personnel already serving in the military. The military has a binary view
of gender; therefore, the rules and regulations, including the language the
military uses, reflect this view. Our assessment focuses on the continued bar
to service in the U.S. armed forces by those who identify (or who the military
identifies) as transgender. It is important to note that while the U.S. maintains
a ban, many of our allies allow transgender people to serve. OutServe-SLDN is
committed to changing that and ensuring that we join the nations around the
world that allow service by all qualified LGBT patriots.
Enlistment / Appointment / Commissioning
To join the military, potential service members are required to undergo a physical
examination as part of the induction process. During this examination, the
military may disqualify a candidate if the potential service member has had any
type of genital surgery. A history of genital surgery may result in a
disqualification for “major abnormalities and defects of the genitalia.
even if the candidate has not had surgery but openly identifies as transgender,
the military considers this to be a disqualifying psychiatric condition,
labeling “transsexualism” and “transvestism” as “psychosexual conditions.” An
individual may request a medical waiver of any disqualifying condition from the
Department of Defense, so in theory, a waiver could be granted for
disqualifications related to gender identity. The availability of medical
waivers varies among the service branches, but OS-SLDN is not aware of a waiver
ever being granted to a transgender service member
Currently Serving Members
Transgender service members who are thinking about becoming
more public or who begin to transition while in the military should be aware of
the difficulties in doing so. The military medical system does not recognize
the World Professional Association for Transgender Health's Standards of Care
for Gender Identity Disorders and will not provide transition-related medical
care. As already stated, being transgender is considered a medically
disqualifying condition, and sex reassignment surgery and/or other medical
procedures will become known by the military during the service member’s
regularly scheduled physical exam. Because the military classifies sex
reassignment surgery under “major abnormalities and defects of the genitalia,”
once this condition is known by the military, the service member will likely be
discharged. Furthermore, even if the candidate has not had surgery but
identifies as transgender, the military considers this to be a disqualifying
psychiatric condition, labeling “transsexualism” and “transvestism” as
For those members who seek treatment from civilian
providers, be aware that each service has regulations governing military
members seeking outside health care which may include reporting requirements.
Failure to abide by these regulations could place a member at risk for criminal
Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) action.
The military strictly regulates uniform and grooming
standards by gender. Wearing clothing the military does not consider
gender-appropriate is considered “cross-dressing” by the military and is
generally addressed in regulations governing conduct. Each service has
different regulations, and “cross-dressing” is handled differently depending on
the circumstance, service component and the service member’s status as enlisted
or officer, and active or reserve. As a practical matter, any “cross-dressing”
or perceived “cross-dressing,” even in the context of following medical
protocol in advance of full transition, will most likely be considered by the
military to be a violation of regulations and result in discipline or criminal
Gender non-conforming service members are often perceived as
being lesbian or gay by others in the military. These service members are often
subjected to anti-gay harassment. In the event of such harassment, service
members should contact OutServe-SLDN for assistance. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
have a Transgender chapter and you may contact the chapter leader by e-mail at email@example.com.
Members of the Inactive Ready Reserve
Transgender persons in the inactive reserve who are in the process of transitioning may be
confronted with the need to halt this process if they are recalled. Recall to
active duty places them directly under the regulatory requirements discussed
above. Therefore, these service members may need to consider ceasing or
interrupting their transition while they complete their active service
requirement. Alternatively, transitioning or post-transitioning reservists may
be medically disqualified for continued service once they are called back to
active duty and medically examined.
Tips for Serving in the Closet
Despite the military’s rules that relate to service by
transgender individuals, there are active-duty service members who identify as
transgender. Though remaining in the closet is necessary for avoiding
discharge, nothing stops a service member from self-identifying as transgender.
Some transgender service members have sought counseling and even hormone
therapy from civilian medical providers without reporting these developments to
the military, though regulation strictly bans this practice.
Some transgender personnel have successfully come out to fellow service
members. However, as under DADT even colleagues and friends that service
members considered trustworthy have led — directly or indirectly — to their
OutServe-SLDN recommends that transgender service members planning to out
themselves to peers or to their command contact our legal hotline first to
discuss legal options and the implications of doing so.
Discharges and Aftermath
Discharges for “sexual gender and identity disorders” are classified as administrative
rather than medical, despite the inclusion of this category under medical
regulation. As a result, transgender service members may be faced with lack of
access to VA health facilities. “Sexual gender and identity disorders” do not
qualify for disability under Defense Department regulations.
service members may be discharged for reasons other than simply being medically
diagnosed as transgender. For example, some who may be disqualified for a
medical issue unrelated to Gender Identity Disorder may undergo medical instead
of administrative discharge. Additionally, discharges based on violations of
conduct regulations (UCMJ infractions) may carry more punitive results.
OutServe-SLDN’s transgender clients have been discharged honorably, though other than
honorable or dishonorable discharges may be possible depending on the case
(e.g., violations of conduct regulations).
The DD-214 form issued to each service member upon discharge carries no gender
marker, though it does list legal name. Some transgender veterans have
successfully amended this name listing with a DD-215 form, which lists changes
to the DD-214.
By regulation, the VA is not permitted to perform or pay for sex reassignment
surgery. However, the Department of Veterans Affairs released a directive on 10
June 2011 articulating a policy of fair and equal treatment for transgender
veterans. It also confirms coverage for medically necessary healthcare for
transgender veterans, such as sex-specific care like mammograms and pap smears,
and transition-related care like hormones and mental health services. This
regulation, however, is scheduled to expire on November 30, 2012, and it is
unclear what policy the VA will adopt after that date
While transgender individuals are barred from open service in this country, many of
our allies are taking a different approach. At least eleven foreign militaries
allow transgender service to some degree, including the United Kingdom, Canada,
Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, the
Czech Republic, and Thailand. Generally, these militaries take the approach
that a person should be able to serve as long as they can do their job. With
these inclusive policies in place, these militaries continue to operate
effectively, and, in some cases, have served alongside US troops in Iraq and
As we work towards full LGBT military equality, it is important to understand where things
currently stand. Within the military context there are more than a dozen
Department of Defense and service regulations that affect transgender service,
as well as UCMJ provisions and military court decisions. And all of this exists
in the broader context of new positions by the American Psychological
Association and updates to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). There
are a number of complicated factors, but the complexity of the issue cannot and
will not deter us from pursuing the fundamental objective: full LGBT military
equality. Military service is a privilege, but as long as a person can do the
job, the opportunity to serve should available to all who steps up and
volunteer. It is the position that so many of our
allies have taken, and it is what we continue to work toward at OutServe-SLDN.
FTM International serves the Female-to-Male community by providing support
meetings for FTMs and their families in cities around the world.
National Center for Transgender Equality
The National Center for Transgender Equality is a national social justice
organization devoted to ending discrimination and violence against transgender
people through education and advocacy on national issues of importance to
Transgendered American Veterans Association (TAVA)
TAVA was formed to address the growing concerns of fair and equal treatment of
transgender veterans and active duty service members.
Transgender Law Center (TLC)
The Transgender Law Center is a California-based civil rights organization
advocating for transgender communities. TLC utilizes direct legal services,
public policy advocacy, and educational opportunities to advance the rights and
safety of diverse transgender communities.
Transgender Law & Policy Institute (TLPI)
The TLPI brings experts and advocates together to work on law and policy initiatives
designed to advance transgender equality.
Have a question? Contact OutServe-SLDN by clicking here.