US military returns to ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy against trans members
Donald Trump’s announcement to ban transgender troops sparked protests. (AP: Frank Franklin II)
The US military is returning to the era of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, as new rules that will ban most openly transgender people from serving came into effect on Friday.
- The policy was formerly removed by President Barack Obama in 2016
- LBGTI+ groups say the re-introduced ban is unconstitutional
- Existing troops who ‘come out’ as trans after Friday will be discharged
Troops and LGBT+ groups said the new policy would force trans military members to choose between transition and their job and result in increased stigma and mental health issues.
“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,” Ashley Broadway-Mack, president of the American Military Partner Association, said.
“By dragging us backward into the dark days of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ the Trump-Pence administration is inflicting tremendous harm on our service members, their families, and the military as a whole.”
The Department of Defence said not all trans military members would be affected.
“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,” a spokeswoman 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.
“When this policy is examined closely there is no justification that could possibly explain what the government is doing,” Peter Renn, from law firm Lambda Legal, said.
“We are positive that when we put forward all the facts… the courts will see it as baseless, irrational discrimination.”
Policy returned three years after it was lifted
More than 10,000 transgender people may be serving in the US military across active service and reserves, according to a 2016 study by think thank RAND Corporation.
While the official “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that prevented sexual minorities from serving openly was brought to an end in 2011, it was only in 2016 that former President Barack Obama lifted restrictions barring trans people.
President Donald Trump reversed the decision, claiming that trans people caused “tremendous medical costs and disruption” to the military.
There are multiple medical and surgical options for trans people, including hormones, therapy and surgical gender reassignment, although non are compulsory and are highly individual choices.
The new policy bars those who have transitioned or are openly transgender from enlisting after Friday, while troops who come out as trans while serving after that day will be discharged.
But it allows members of the armed forces who were diagnosed with gender dysphoria during the Obama administration’s policy to remain in the military and serve according to their gender identity.
Thousands of troops affected
Kara Corcoran, a captain in the U.S. 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, Blake Dremann, of the SPART*A organisation for trans military members, said.
“No one should have to choose between getting care that they need and being able to serve their country.”
Jillian Scheer, a postdoctoral research fellow at Yale University, said the policy was likely to cause increased anxiety, depression and suicidal feelings among trans service members and could also lead to a spike in stigma and abuse of trans people in wider society.