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Transgender people and military service

Countries that accept transgender service personnel

Most militaries across the world do not accept transgender service personnel. Although some nations do not exclude service on grounds of sexual orientation, most exclude on grounds of gender identity. Generally speaking, Western European militaries show a greater tendency toward inclusion of transgender individuals.[1] As of July 2017, 18 countries allowed transgender military personnel to serve openly: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Cuba and Thailand reportedly allowed transgender service in a limited capacity.[2]


Arguments against including transgender people in the militaryEdit

There are arguments against the inclusion of transgender people in military service based on the view that being transgender is a mental illness, and as such transgender individuals are unfit for service.[1] This argument follows a high incidence of depression and suicide manifest in transgender individuals. This is especially pertinent in post sex-reassignment surgery individuals who are unsatisfied with the results; in such cases severe depression is prevalent.[3] Hormone therapy can affect mood and a sense of well-being, a factor that counts against inclusion of transgender people and its effect on service capability.[3] Besides the well-being argument of hormone treatment, complications may arise due to hormone treatments. Possible complications arising from oestrogen and testosterone therapies include an increased risk of thromboembolic disease, myocardial infarction, breast cancer, fertility problems, stroke, abnormal liver function, renal disease, endometrial cancer, and osteoporosis.[4] Any of these could cause significant issues to effective military service, especially when deployed in remote areas or in field training settings.

A further argument is that in order to have an effective, smooth-running military, there must be cohesion within the unit. It is argued that transgender individuals would have a negative impact on unit cohesion. "The bonds of trust among individual service members" are vital.[5] There is a fear that if transgender personnel be allowed to serve openly, morale will be detrimentally affected. But this argument neglects to deal with the question of what kinds of structural accommodations might be needed to maintain morale and unit cohesion in such situations. Military service forces members into very intimate living quarters. Requiring members to live in situations that make them feel disconcerted and uncomfortable may result in their performance being undermined.[1][4] The logistics of accommodating a group of individuals with such varying degrees of gender representation would be staggering. The costs alone of allowing transgender people to serve counts heavily against inclusion[6]. Not only logistically and structurally, but also in medical costs. It is estimated that a male to female transition can cost between $7,000USD - $24,000USD; female to male transition can exceed $50,000USD.[7] Which, depending on policy, the military may have to fund.

Arguments for including transgender people in the militaryEdit

By excluding a demographic from equal service, militaries are overtly intensifying the stigma of that group's civic inferiority.[8] This is supported by the notion that all citizens are obligated to serve their nations if the need arises.[9] Allowing transgender military personnel to serve openly without fear of exclusion would be a huge step toward equality. It has been recognised by some academics that the inclusion of all LGBT personnel in the military is more than a mere human rights issue, it is argued that for militaries to survive in the twenty-first century diversity is critical.[1]

With advancements in the current understanding of human experience, sexual identity is now better understood. Where being transgender was once considered a paraphilic disorder, the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders places being transgender in a separate chapter, terming the condition gender dysphoria. It is argued that militaries that exclude transgender people on grounds of mental illness, whose policies pathologize gender dysphoria, are at odds with the current medical understanding. This argument requires that transgender personnel be treated by the same level of medical care as all other personnel, in accordance with established medical practice.[10]

Experts argue that there is absolutely no empirical evidence that supports the argument that transgender people are unfit for service. Often cited are factors such as a supposed predisposition of transgender individuals to problems such as depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts; this is countered by the prevalence of these same issues in the LGB community, yet in many countries their service is not excluded.[11][12] By creating a more accepting environment, distress that transgender personnel feel might be mitigated if they may serve openly with full support.[13]

Whilst militaries often cite the high medical cost of transgender people, they fail to reconcile this argument with current standards with other service members. For example, militaries often allow hormone treatments for an array of reasons and conditions, besides gender dysphoria; a common hormone treatment being contraceptive. Furthermore, the often cited risks of cross hormone treatment are rare,[14] and not likely to cause any significant issues to the military. Whilst the cost of gender reassignment surgery is high,[7] it is suggested that fewer than 2% of transgender members per year will choose to undergo gender reassignment surgery.[15]

Perhaps one of the most supporting arguments is based on the experiences of the 18 countries that currently allow transgender service. Research on the impacts of allowing LGBT to serve openly in the Israeli Defense Forces, British Armed Forces, and Canadian Armed Forces found no necessary negative impacts on performance, unit cohesion or morality.[16] The idea of unit cohesion can also be demonstrated by a social study conducted less than one year prior to the repeal of the ban preventing transgender personnel from serving openly in the United States military. Morten G. Ender, David E. Rohall, and Michael D. Matthews presented the American military academy, Reserve Officers Training Corps, and civilian undergraduates with a survey to assess the general attitude on the prospect of the transgender community serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. After statistical analysis, 50.8% of individuals disagreed with the ban. In regards to productivity, 72.6% of subjects say that transgender inclusion would have no impact on their ability to do their job. Finally, on the subject of visibility, 21.8% of those interviewed said they would want transgender individuals to tell them their gender preferences, 56.1% said no preference. Overall, based on this study one year prior to the ban, the majority of the people that participated in the survey showed overwhelming support towards the inclusion of the transgender community in the United States military.[17]

Transgender people in the military by countryEdit


Eighteen years after the Australian Defence Force lifted their ban on gay and lesbian service,[18] the ADF reversed policy that excluded transgender people from military service. It is believed that the Australian Defence Force was the last agency whose policy specifically allowed for firing employees for transitioning gender.[19] The ADF policy supports diversity in the military identifying LGBTI as a main priority, whose key objective is to position the ADF as an employer of choice, who as an organisation respects and supports the inclusion of gender diverse persons.[20]

In 2013 Australian law formally codified protections against discrimination based on gender identity by including federal protections for LGBTI in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984.[21] There are approximately 15 transgender service member who are openly living as their identified gender,[22] with the support of ADF ranking officials who have been vocally committed to creating an inclusive and diverse military environment. In a One Plus One interview with ABC News ADF's highest ranking transgender service member Lieutenant Colonel Cate McGregor speechwriter to the Chief of Army, Lieutenant General David Morrison AO, stated that the Chief of Army took the view that the "army could not survive if it became a demographic ghetto" and described an underbelly within the military whose culture was to exclude those who are different.[23] In the wake of the Jedi Council sex scandal[24][25] Chief of Army released a strongly worded statement urging all service members to show moral courage, to stand against any person degrading another individual. He further stated that he will "be ruthless in ridding the army of people who cannot live up to its values".[26] Whilst there might still be a long road to full acceptance of the transgender community in Australia,[27] transgender service members and their families are supported by DEFGLIS whose aim is to support LGBTI personnel and families, strengthen defence capability through inclusion, and educate the workforce about diversity.[28]

New ZealandEdit

The New Zealand Defence Force has been lauded as a world leader in diversity and for support of the LGBTQI community, and has been ranked as number one for integration of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender personnel into the nation's military.[29][30]

With the addition of the Human Rights Act to the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act in 1994, discrimination based on sexual orientation was criminalised. Although there is no specific reference to transgender people in the New Zealand statute, it has been held by the Solicitor General that protections for transgender people did in fact come under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 under the sex discrimination provision.[31][32] Whilst the Human Rights Commission and many activists still assert the need for an express provision in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act to properly protect transgender people from discrimination,[33] the NZDF as an equal opportunity employer does not discriminate on the basis of gender identity.

In support of maintaining diversity and inclusiveness the Chief of Defence Force approved the establishment of a support group for the military's LGBTI personnel.[34] In 2012 an organisation called the NZDF Overwatch was launched within the defence force. Overwatch provides peer support and networking within the defence force to the GLBTI community, both in uniform and out. The organisation also offers education and guidance to command and commanders. The NZDF and Overwatch was recognised for their inclusiveness and approach to equal employment opportunity being named the Supreme award winner of the ANZ and Equal Employment Opportunities Trust, Diversity Awards NZ 2013.[35]

United StatesEdit

The United States' military policy previously allowed for exclusion of transgender people from service on medical grounds. While gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members were allowed to serve openly since 2011, transgender service members risked discharge if they did not pass as their assigned sex. This required that service members conceal their gender identities throughout service.[36]

It was estimated that in 2008-2009 there were approximately 15,500 transgender individuals either serving on active duty or in the National Guard or Army Reserve forces within the U.S. Military.[37] A 2016 study, however, based on previous research estimated that only between 1,320 and 6,630 transgender individuals served on active duty and between 830 and 4,160 in reserve duty, with midrange figures of 2,450 in active duty and 1,510 in reserves. [38][39]

Barack Obama AdministrationEdit

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James openly supported a change to the military's transgender policy, stating in 2014 that it was likely to be reviewed in the next year or so.[40] In February 2015, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter made a statement suggesting an openness to including transgender people in the military, stating he was open minded about it, and that nothing but individual lack of merit should preclude such people from service.[41] Carter's statement was later endorsed by President Obama.[42] On August 19, 2015, Carter stated in a memo that the Defense Department had begun the process of dismantling the ban and that transgender people would be able to openly serve in the U.S. military by May 27 of the following year.[43]

Department of Defense regulations that ban transgender persons from US military service were repealed on June 30, 2016,[44] but the status of these service members is unclear after new rules issued by the Trump administration.

It was announced on June 30, 2016 that, beginning on that date, otherwise qualified United States service members could not any longer be discharged, denied reenlistment, involuntarily separated, or denied continuation of service because of being transgender.[45]

A key element of transgender inclusion is providing the community health care services and implementing worldwide Standards of Care. A current issue for the transgender population is the use of military medical insurance to transition from one gender to another.[46] In 2014, Chelsea Manning, an openly transgender U.S. soldier incarcerated for violations under the Espionage Act, filed a lawsuit against Secretary of Defense Hagel for failing to provide appropriate medical treatment necessary for her gender transformation.[47] In a military first, hormone therapy to assist with Manning's gender conformity was approved and added to her treatment plan at Fort Leavenworth prison, along with other provisions such as cosmetics and female undergarments to help her express her gender identity.[48][49]

Donald Trump AdministrationEdit

On July 26, 2017, US President Donald Trump announced that transgender people would no longer be allowed to serve in the US military.[50] The following day, General Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated that openly transgender people will continue to be allowed to serve until Trump provides direction to defense secretary James Mattis.[51]

On August 1, 2017, the Palm Center released a letter signed by 56 retired generals and admirals, opposing the proposed ban on transgender military service members. The letter stated that if implemented, the ban "would cause significant disruptions, deprive the military of mission-critical talent and compromise the integrity of transgender troops who would be forced to live a lie, as well as non-transgender peers who would be forced to choose between reporting their comrades or disobeying policy".[52]

On August 9, 2017,[53][54] five transgender United States military personnel sued Trump and top Pentagon officials over the proposed banning of transgender people from serving in the military. The suit asks the court to prevent the ban from going into effect.[53][54] Two major LGBT-rights organizations filed a petition in the United States District Court in Washington on behalf of the five transgender servicemembers.[54]

On August 25, 2017, Trump signed a presidential memorandum directing the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of Homeland Security to submit an implementation plan on how to reinstate the ban by February 21, 2018.[55]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d Polchar, Joshua; Sweijs, Tim; Marten, Philipp; Galdiga, Jan (27 June 2014). "LGBT Military Personnel: a Strategic Vision for Inclusion". The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies. ISBN 9789491040931. Archived from the original on 28 July 2017. 
  2. ^ O'Connor, Tim (26 July 2017). "Trump's Transgender Military Ban Leaves Only 18 Countries With Full LGBT Rights in Armed Forces". Newsweek. Retrieved 26 July 2017. 
  3. ^ a b Clements T.I., Wicks R.E.,"Transsexualism and Flight Safety" Aerospace Medicine Branch Education USAF School of Aerospace Medicine, Brooks Air Force Base, Texas online
  4. ^ a b Major Bunn S.A., Straight talk: The implications of repealing "Don't ask, Don't tell" and the rationale for preserving aspects of the current policy 203 MIL. L Rev. 207, 236 (2010) online
  5. ^ Kaplan D., Rosenmann A, Unit social cohesion in the Israeli military as a case study of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell, 33 Pol. Psychol. 419, 422 (2012)l
  6. ^ Needs Citation
  7. ^ a b Sex Reassignment Surgery Encyclopaedia of Surgery, Retrieved 2015-04-27
  8. ^ Binkin M., Eitelberg M.j., Blacks and the military, (1982) Washington, DC, Brookings Institution
  9. ^ Herek G.M., "Sexual orientation and military service: A social science perspective," American Psychologist 48, no. 5 (1993) pp. 538-549
  10. ^ Gale S.P. (co-chair), Shannon M. (co-chair), "Report of the Planning Commission on Transgender Military Service" A nonpartisan national commission offering implementation guidance for the inclusion of openly-serving transgender personnel in the US military (Aug 2014) Palm Centre Blueprints for sound public policy
  11. ^ King M. et al., "A systematic review of mental disorder, suicide, and deliberate self harm in lesbian, gay and bisexual people," BMC Psychiatry 8 (2008) pp. 1-17
  12. ^ Carpenter: Why LGB people should care about trans bias in the military Tom Carpenter & Karen Ocamb, LGBt POV, (Oct. 24, 2012) Retrieved 2015-04-28
  13. ^ Ross A., "The Invisible Army: Why the military needs to rescind its ban on transgender service members" 23 S. Cal. Interdisc. L.J. (2014) p.185
  14. ^ Asscheman H. et al., "A long-term follow up study of mortality in transsexual receiving treatment with cross-sex hormones," European Journal of Endocrinology 164, 4 (2011) pp. 635
  15. ^ Elders J.M., et al, "Medical aspects of transgender military service" 41 Armed Forces & Society 2 (2014) pp.1-22
  16. ^ Belkin A., Levitt M., "Homosexuality and the Israel Defense Forces: Did Lifting the Gay Ban Undermine Military Performance?," 27 Armed Forces & Society 4 ( 2001) p. 544; Belkin and Evans, "The Effects of Including Gay and Lesbian Soldiers in the British Armed Forces," 4; Belkin A., McNichol J., "Homosexual Personnel Policy in the Canadian Forces: Did Lifting the Gay Ban Undermine Military Performance?," 56 Canadian International Journal 1 (2000) p. 80
  17. ^ Ender, Morton G.; Matthews, Michael D.; Rohall, David E. (2016). "Cadet and Civilian Undergraduate Attitudes toward Transgender People". Armed Forces & Society. 42.2: 427–435. 
  18. ^ Australia Ends a Prohibition on Homosexuals in Military New York Times, Nov. 24 1992, Retrieved 2015-04-29
  19. ^ Let them serve: Defence drops ban on transgender soldiers Crikey, Sep 15, 2010, Retrieved 2015-04-29
  20. ^ Australian Government; Department of Defence: Our Identified Priorities retrieved 2015-04-29
  21. ^ New protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status Australian Human Rights Commission, 1 Aug, 2013; Retrieved 2015-04-29
  22. ^ The Secret I Kept for 50 Years Australian Women's Weekly, Jan 2014, Retrieved 2015-04-29
  23. ^ "One Plus One (Video)". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 29 April 2015. 
  24. ^ "Jedi Council (Online)". Retrieved 29 April 2015. 
  25. ^ Transcript of Morrison's press conference on 2013 email scandal, 13 June 2013,
  26. ^ Australia's army chief: No place in military for those who denigrate women (Video) The Guardian, Retrieved 29 April 2015
  27. ^ Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Equality (Online) Australian Human Rights Commission, Retrieved 29 April-2015
  28. ^ DEFGLIS (Online) Retrieved 29 April 2015
  29. ^ Maximising Opportunities for Military Women in the New Zealand Defence Force (Online) Evaluation Division, 2014, Retrieved 30 April 2015
  30. ^ NZ Defence Force Proud to be Ranked First in Worldwide Diversity Study (Online) New Zealand Defence Force News updated 21 Feb 2014, Retrieved 30 April 2015
  31. ^ Paul Rishworth. 'Human rights - Freedom from discrimination', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 13-Jul-12 (Online) Retrieved 30 April 2015
  32. ^ Solicitor General's opinion on the application of the Human Rights Act 1993 to transgender people (Online)
  33. ^ To Be who I am: Kia noho au ki tōku anō ao (Online) Report of the inquiry into discrimination experienced by transgender people: He pūrongo mō te uiutanga mō aukatitanga e pāngia ana e ngā rāngata whakawhitiira, (2007)
  34. ^ Jim Rolfe. 'Armed forces - Historical overview', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 13-Jul-12 Online) Retrieved 30 April 2015
  35. ^ Diversity Awards 2013 (Online) EEO Trust, Retrieved 30 April 2015
  36. ^ Ross A., "The invisible army: why the military needs to rescind its ban on transgender service members," Southern California Interdisciplinary Law Journal 23 (2014) p. 185
  37. ^ Gates, Gary J.; Herman, Jody (2014). "Transgender Military Service in the United States". The Williams Institute: 4. Retrieved 2016-08-20. 
  38. ^ "How Many Transgender People Serve in the Military?". Time Inc. 2017-07-26. Retrieved 2017-07-30. 
  39. ^ "The Implications of Allowing Transgender Personnel to Serve Openly in the U.S. Military" (PDF). RAND. Retrieved 2017-07-30. 
  40. ^ Air force secretary supports lifting transgender ban (Online) USA Today, 10 Dec 2014, Retrieved 1 May 2015
  41. ^ U.S. Military Takes Baby Step Toward Allowing Transgender Soldiers (Online) Time, 24 Feb 2015, Retrieved 1 May 2015
  42. ^ White House echoes Pentagon chief on transgender troops (Online) USA Today, 23 Feb 2015, Retrieved 1 May 2015
  43. ^ "Military transgender ban set to end next May". 
  44. ^ Reuters (25 June 2016). "US military to repeal ban on openly transgender personnel". 
  45. ^ "TMilitary lifts transgender ban s". McClatchy. June 30, 2016. Retrieved June 30, 2016. 
  46. ^ Alford, Brandon; Lee, Shawna J. (2016). "Toward Complete Inclusion: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, And Transgender Military Service Members After Repeal Of Don't Ask, Don't Tell". Social Work. 61.3: 257–265. 
  47. ^ Chelsea Manning sues to get transgender medical treatment (Online) CNN, 24 Sep 2014, Retrieved 1 May 2015
  48. ^ Military approves hormone therapy for Chelsea Manning (Online) USA Today, 13 Feb 2015, Retrieved 1 May 2015
  49. ^ Joint Status Report and Motion to Stay Proceedings for Seven Months" (Online), 10 Mar 2015, Retrieved 1 May 2015
  50. ^ "Trump: Transgender people 'can't serve' in US military". BBC. July 26, 2017. Retrieved July 26, 2017. 
  51. ^ "Defense chiefs resist Donald Trump's ban on transgender troops". The Guardian. Associated Press. July 27, 2017. Retrieved July 27, 2017. 
  52. ^ Levin, Sam (August 1, 2017). "Top military officials call on Trump to reverse transgender ban". The Guardian. Retrieved August 24, 2017. 
  53. ^ a b Charlie Savage (2017-08-09). "5 Transgender Service Members Sue Trump Over Military Ban - The New York Times". Retrieved 2017-08-24. 
  54. ^ a b c Press, Associated. "Lawsuit Opposes Trump's Ban on Transgender Military Service". NBC News. Retrieved 2017-08-24. 
  55. ^ Trump, Donald J. (25 August 2017). "Presidential Memorandum for the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Homeland Security". The White House. Retrieved 26 August 2017. 

External linksEdit