Expert Commission: Military Policies on Trans People Not Based on Science

March 13, 2014
Bryce Celotto, former NCTE intern and transgender service member.

Bryce Celotto, former NCTE intern and transgender service member, is featured in a forthcoming web series documentary, “TransMilitary.” 

A national commission chaired by a former US Surgeon General and a former health and safety director for the Coast Guard released a major report this week, finding that US military policies on transgender service members are not based on sound medical science and should be revised. The commission found that the ban on service by transgender people is “an expensive, damaging, and unfair barrier to health care access for the approximately 15,450 transgender personnel” who currently service in uniform.

The commission also criticized the current policy of discharging personnel found to be transgender irrespective of their fitness for duty, stating this is “inconsistent with how the military regulates all other medical and psychological conditions.” Former US Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders and retired Rear Admiral Alan Steinman, who are in leading medical positions in the Coast Guard and Public Health Service, chaired the commission, and a group of 16 current and former military university professors endorsed the quality of their research and the reasonableness of their conclusions.

The report, published by the Palm Center at San Francisco State University, found that current military regulations regarding transgender people are inconsistent with military policies that permit other service members to be deployed while on hormone medications; permit other service members to continue serving following reconstructive surgeries; and do not discharge service members based on medical diagnoses without an assessment of individual fitness for duty. The report also found that current rules fail to account for recent changes in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), and compromise continuity of care between the Pentagon and the Veterans Administration, which has made great strides in supporting trans veterans.

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Toward Open Military Service

August 2, 2013

Transgender people cannot currently serve openly in the U.S. Military. Military medical regulations, as currently written and implemented, effectively preclude service. These rules are based on unsupportable, old fashioned, unscientific nothing and they must end. And they will end.

Finally, nearly three years after Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed, attention is finally turning to trans military service. Just this week, our colleagues at The Palm Center announced that they have commissioned eleven studies, supported by the largest known grant ever given to a trans policy effort. And yesterday, The Williams Institute released a new analysis of the challenges reported by veterans in the NCTE/Task Force National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS).

Even more is happening behind the scenes. Conversations are starting, plans are being laid, and progress seems inevitable. We will win open military service for trans people.

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Honoring Trans Veterans

November 11, 2012

On this Veterans’ Day, NCTE salutes the contributions and sacrifices of transgender veterans. According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 1 in 5 transgender adults has served in the armed forces. These brave Americans have served in silence, and often been denied the benefits they worked so hard and risked so much to earn.

In recent years, we have begun to make progress. In 2011 the Veterans Administration issued a directive calling for respectful and appropriate treatment for transgender veterans seeking health care. NCTE has continued to work with the VA to implement that directive across the country, from providing guidance to VA medical staff to updating patient records to reflect a person’s gender identity. And with the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” we have finally begun a much-needed conversation about open military service for transgender people.

There is still much to do. Trans people are still forced to serve in silence, as our non-trans gay, lesbian, and bisexual brothers and sisters thankfully no longer have to do. Trans veterans are still denied their hard-earned health benefits when it comes to medically necessary transition-related surgeries. NCTE will keep working to fulfill our promises to trans servicemembers and veterans.

NCTE’s resource on VA benefits and the VA transgender directive can be found here.

Read the Veterans Health Administration Directive here.


NCTE Commends LGBT Military Magazine for Addressing Open Transgender Service

January 30, 2012

In their groundbreaking January edition, OutServe Magazine profiles six current transgender service members and veterans, some sharing their stories in public for the first time. The article, entitled “The New DADT: Transgender Service,” highlights the daily challenges transgender people face serving in silence, and the urgently needed policy changes necessary for ending this ban.

OutServe Magazine January 2012 Cover

Despite the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” open transgender military service remains banned due to outdated military medical regulations. Mara Keisling spoke with the author of the article, Katherine Miller, about how to change these regulations. Keisling noted the significant progress federal agencies like the Department of Veterans Affairs have made that could be foundational for the Armed Forces to begin making these changes.

Commenting on the article, Keisling added, “Stories of transgender service members are crucial to getting the military to end this ban. NCTE commends OutServe for telling these important stories, and I am hopeful that this will start the conversations that will lead to social and cultural changes making it safe for anyone who wants to serve our country do so proudly.”

The article, which will go live on Tuesday, January 31, 2012, can be viewed in its entirety at www.outservemag.com.

While the ban on open transgender service exists, NCTE urges current transgender service members to read our guidance issued with the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) to understand the consequences of coming out.


Policy Brief: Transgender Veterans

June 28, 2011

Transgender veterans who rely on veteran services can be among our most vulnerable community members.  NCTE’s federal policy agenda has specific areas of advocacy for transgender veterans: access to healthcare through the Veterans Administration and ability to update records and documentation of military service.

From the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, which NCTE conducted in partnership with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, we learned that transgender people seem to be disproportionately represented among the ranks of American veterans.  Twenty percent of our sample indicated that they had served—almost twice the level of service among the general American adult population.  And 20 percent of the transgender veterans in the sample used the VA system as their primary healthcare provider. In terms of discharge papers, only 35 percent of the veterans in our sample have been able to acquire amended discharge papers (DD-215).

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NCTE Celebrates Transgender Veterans

June 28, 2011

Wednesday January 22nd, 2011 marked a historic day for many in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) military community. The Department of Veterans Affairs welcomed home LGBT veteran’s with an event. Top leaders from the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense spoke about their personal experiences as LGBT military veterans and on federal policies facing LGBT servicemembers. NCTE joined our friends at Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, Servicemembers United, and Outserve at the event.

The pending certification of “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal was a hot button topic among the speakers. Douglas Wilson, Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs at the Defense Department and firstly openly gay assistant secretary at the Pentagon, thanked gay servicemembers and highlighted the value of serving as a “whole, integrated person.”

Mara Keisling, Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, reminded everyone that transgender people will still not be permitted to serve. For the military, being transgender is a physical and mental health disqualification for service. Transgender people have served and are serving in the military “honorably and well,” she said. More are starting to serve openly despite the fact that the ban is in place and that the policies holding back transgender people from enlistment and open service are just as “onerous and unjust” as “don’t ask, don’t tell” is.

It was not all doom and gloom in regards to transgender military service. Keisling praised the VA for its recently released healthcare directive. The directive allows transgender veterans to receive fair and equal treatment at all VA facilities, update their gender marker on VA documents without a specific diagnosis or medical treatment (i.e., surgery or hormones), and covers hormones, mental health services, pre-operative and post-operative care. NCTE thanked the VA for their hard work in support of LGBT veterans.

Read NCTE’s Policy Brief on Transgender Care in VA Facilities here.

Watch video of Mara’s remarks below.


It’s Time to Repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

May 27, 2010

NCTE fully supports the repeal of the deeply flawed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) policy used to discharge gay, lesbian and bisexual people from the US military. We stand in solidarity with those who want to serve openly, without fear that a revelation of their sexual orientation will end their careers.  We recognize, too, that military service is an important path for some to obtain education, jobs, housing and other important benefits.

While DADT is specifically focused on sexual orientation, not on gender identity, it very much impacts transgender service members. Differences in gender expression have been assumed by some to signify a lesbian or gay sexual orientation and so have triggered investigations and discharges. There are many active duty service members who identify as transgender; however, contrary to modern medical understanding, the military continues to wrongly consider gender identity as a mental illness that disqualifies people from entering or serving.

The movement to repeal DADT and the work to pass federal employment protections through the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) share a common root—a person’s right to pursue the career path they choose.  One of the freedoms Americans cherish is the right of individuals to determine the course of their own futures. Whether that path is military service or another way of earning a living, none of us should be curtailed from pursuing our dreams and goals because of the prejudice of individuals or institutions.

It is time to remove the barriers to full and open employment for all LGBT people in both the military and civilian sectors.


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