The US military is returning to the era of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policies, after new rules that ban transgender people from serving came into effect on Friday.
The new policy bars military members who have transitioned or are openly trans from enlisting after Friday, while troops who come out as trans while serving after that day will be discharged.It forces trans soldiers to hide their identity or lose their job and will result in increased stigma and mental health issues, said troops and LGBT groups.
“With the implementation of this transgender military ban, our nation is once again shamefully forcing brave American heroes to hide who they are in order to serve,” said Ashley Broadway-Mack, the president of the American Military Partner Association.
More than 10,000 trans people may be serving in the military across active service and reserves, according to a 2016 study by the Rand Corporation, a think tank.
But they have rarely been able to be open about their identity or transition while serving.
The official “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that prevented gay people from serving openly was brought to an end in 2011, but it was only in 2016 that former president Barack Obama lifted restrictions barring trans people.
In reality, trans healthcare has been a small fraction of the military’s health budget, with one analysis estimating that the military spends roughly five times as much on Viagra alone than on transition-related care for trans troops. The American Medical Association has criticized Trump’s argument, saying it misrepresents science.
The Department of Defense has claimed that not all trans military members would be affected by the new regulations, since it allows members of the armed forces who were diagnosed with gender dysphoria during the Obama policy to remain in the military and serve according to their gender identity.
“The military provides all necessary medical care to protect the health of our service members, including those who are in the process of being separated,” Dod said in a statement.
Kara Corcoran, a captain in the US Army, disclosed that she was trans last year, under pressure from the incoming rules that would have forced her to stay in the closet indefinitely.
“I cannot explain to you how much more mentally sound and even more physically fit I am today than I was a year ago,” she said of the decision.
She feared that many other troops who were not yet ready to come out would suffer, saying she had personally recently spoken to a colleague who had decided to keep his identity a secret.
“He’s like ‘I’ll hold out and hopefully they will change the policy back,’ and it’s hurtful because I know that he will eventually get to a point where he can’t suppress it like I did for so many years,” she said.
Studies suggest there are likely to be thousands of trans troops who have not disclosed their identity and will be forced to choose between their career and living openly, said Blake Dremann, of the Sparta organisation for trans military members.
The rules will have an impact on the mental health of trans troops, said Jillian Scheer, a postdoctoral research fellow at Yale University.
“The president stating these messages reinforces this notion that trans people are different, and therefore should be stigmatised, that they are not fit to serve,” she said.
LGBT organisations are fighting the new rules in the courts, arguing they violate trans Americans’ constitutional rights, including equal protection under the law, due process and freedom of expression.
The courts have allowed the administration to put the policy into effect, but they have not yet ruled on the wider issues of whether it is legal.
“When this policy is examined closely there is no justification that could possibly explain what the government is doing,” said Peter Renn, of law firm Lambda Legal, the lead attorney in one of the cases fighting against the new rules.
He said, however, that it could be months before the court process is completed and a final judgment issued.
Meanwhile, trans military groups said they would continue to support those forced to hide their gender identity as a result of the changes.
“It’s living as two different people,” said Dremann.
“That type of thing is untenable – a lot of people can do it for a certain amount of time but eventually they are going to have to transition.”