Honoring the Service of All Veterans

November 11, 2013

According to a national survey by NCTE and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, fully one in five transgender adults in the United States – or an estimated 140,000 transgender people today – have served in the armed forces. While still not able to do so openly (nearly one in ten transgender veterans reports having been discharged due to their gender identity), transgender people have served in every conflict in our nation’s history, and many continue to today.

In recent years, enormous steps have been taken toward achieving equal access to support and earned benefits for transgender veterans. Undoubtedly the most visible achievement has been the 2011 Veterans Health Administration directive, updated in 2013, calling for respectful and nondiscriminatory services for transgender veterans, and equal access to health care to the greatest extent possible under current regulations. The Veterans Administration has continued in recent years its efforts to increase providers’ cultural competence and clinical knowledge for serving transgender veterans, and NCTE serves as an advisor for an ongoing VHA working group on these efforts, which have included developing training, clinical guidelines, and consultation for providers. This is an area where a very modest effort can lead to significant gains in health care quality by giving targeted attention to previously-neglected barriers.

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Veterans Health Admin. Renews Trans Health Care Directive

February 11, 2013

The Veterans Health Administration has issued a renewed and updated directive on providing health care for transgender veterans and veterans with intersex conditions. VHA originally issued this directive in June 2011, and like other VHA directives it carried a technical expiration date, and was intended to be updated or included in other, permanent VHA policy documents in the future. While the expiration date passed in late 2012, actual VA policy never changed, and the new directive is effective for at least the next five years.

The renewed VHA directive is essentially identical to the 2011 version, but is accompanied by an official FAQ document that provides helpful clarification on patients’ rights to be treated according to their gender identity for purposes of pronouns, restroom access, and room placements, as well as on how to update gender markers in VHA patient records. There is also additional guidance for VHA health care providers who may be treating a transgender or intersex patient for the first time.

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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.


More Work Needed to Honor Transgender Vets

November 11, 2011

As the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) joins the country in reflecting on our veterans, NCTE Executive Director Mara Keisling reminds us that more must be done in health and housing programs to adequately serve transgender veterans. The VA must cover all transition-related care to recognizer transgender veterans. In a statement released this morning, Keisling says:

This year, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) made headway in honoring transgender veterans by affirming their medical needs in the VA healthcare system. We celebrated the VA Directive for making clear that transgender patients have the same access and protections in VA health services as all veterans do. But to fully recognize the sacrifices of transgender veterans, the VA must lift the remaining restrictions on covering medically necessary transition-related care.”

The VA Directive released in June of this year made progress in securing equal health access for transgender veterans. The Directive does several things:

  • Indicates that all VA staff are to provide care to transgender patients “without discrimination in a manner consistent with care and management of all Veteran patients;”
  • Clearly states that all personal information about transgender status and medical care is kept confidential;
  • Reiterates that, under existing regulations, sex reassignment surgery cannot be performed or paid for by the VA;
  • Reiterates that all other medically necessary healthcare for transgender veterans is covered, including sex-specific care like mammograms and pap smears, as well as transition- related care such as hormones and mental health services.

While the Directive sets the standard for the respectful treatment of transgender patients for public and private healthcare providers, it does not address the existing medical regulations that bar medically necessary transition-related care. Keisling says, “These are hard earned and well-deserved benefits. While NCTE will continue to advocate the VA for these changes, the VA can do the right thing now: honor transgender veterans by covering transition related care.”

Download NCTE’s guide to the Directive here.


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.


Calling All Veterans

November 11, 2010

I am a veteran.

I love telling people that for two reasons; I’m proud of my service and it nearly always surprises people.  When you meet me, you meet an extremely liberal, out lesbian who is often mistaken for a man.  I was a vegetarian for eight years, I am very much against the death penalty, and I work hard to topple the status quo of classism, racism, sexism, and every other form of oppression.  So how could I also be a veteran?

Veterans are too rare a breed in the world of liberal politics.  And I’ll admit, some of my views have changed since I turned to Uncle Sam 20 years ago to help me get through college in the form of an ROTC scholarship.  But the common thread that runs through my life from military service to fighting for social justice is both my belief in the value of democracy, and the understanding that it is a participatory activity.  It doesn’t work if we don’t do it.

To some extent, my military service was a radicalizing experience for me.  I guess you get out of it what you bring to it, but I learned the joy of mass actions, the benefit of socialized medicine, and witnessed people from all walks of life setting aside differences to work towards common purpose.  Furthermore, I learned some great topple-the-status-quo skills in the military and use them in my fight for social justice now.

To my fellow veterans: Happy Veterans’ Day.  At NCTE, we salute you and we invite you to join us in continuing the fight.  Defending democracy doesn’t have to stop when we leave the out-processing station.


What we’ve been up to this week

June 18, 2010

Like most weeks, NCTE’s staff and interns have been involved with a wide variety of projects and policy areas. We thought we’d just give you a quick snapshot of what we’ve been working on this week; just the highlights really, among many tasks.

Mara  Keisling, our Executive Director, spent a significant amount of time on Capitol Hill, as usual, continuing to secure votes for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and working closely with our partners on this effort. She also did work preparing for the Veterans Administration’s upcoming release of a new policy to ensure appropriate health care for transgender veterans. Mara also gave several interviews on an act of discrimination at a Denny’s restaurant in Maine and a professor in Chicago who is transitioning on the job. In addition, Mara oversees all of the policy work being done by other staff members.

Mul Kim, our Health Policy Counsel, worked with various LGBT organizations to ensure that the regulations being promulgated to implement the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act are LGBT inclusive. Additionally, she and Mara collaborated with other organizations on efforts to make changes to the Family Medical Leave Act so that it can be used by LGBT individuals during times of family emergencies or personal health issues.

Harper Jean Tobin, our Policy Counsel, did extensive work this week finalizing a memo that we are sending with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force to the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) to help inform their training of screeners so that they can more knowledgeably and respectfully treat transgender passengers at airports across the country. She also continued her work on increasing safety and respect for transgender prisoners with a meeting on the Prison Rape Elimination Act and was part of our work with the Social Security Administration (SSA) about gender markers recorded by the SSA.

Justin Tanis, who does Communications and Education, focused this week on finalizing information that the Department of Justice has requested about gender identity as part of their implementation of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which will include training for law enforcement officers. Justin has been helping lead the Gender Identity Working Group that is part of the Hate Crimes Coalition. He also reworked the resource section of our website to make it more user-friendly, finished up the graphics on our annual report, spoke with several reporters writing about transgender issues, and kept our tweets and Facebook updates coming.

Stephanie White, our Managing Director, is responsible for keeping the doors open and the organization moving forward. Her work this week focused on fundraising efforts, as she had conversations with two current funders, submitted two letters of interest  and sent in a proposal for funding. She is also working on a project to increase efficiency and collaboration among LGBT groups in DC by exploring the possibility of co-locating office spaces and sharing resources like IT support, internet service, phone service, administrative support, and other overhead expenses.  Her adorable 7 ½ week old baby, Oliver, also spent a little time in the office today providing everyone the opportunity to make silly faces and enjoy his presence.

Jazmin Sutherlin, our Administrative Assistant, scheduled trainings and interviews with the media for Mara, including an appearance next week on In the Life. She also answered the calls that came into the office, worked with our tech support people and made sure that everything ran smoothly.  Jazmin performed last weekend as part of DC’s pride celebrations.

Our three interns were busy too. Tonei Glavinic is back with us this summer, this time working to create a wiki and other resources for transgender students to share about their experiences on campus. This week zie spoke with advisors at American University to gather information about categories to include and also worked with our coalition partners about educating Congress on ENDA.

Rebekah Fasel, one of our legal interns, worked on memos. One outlines Federal Conscious Clause laws and how they may relate to transgender people’s access to health care, while a second looks at current and suggested policy for transgender students, including their rights to be free from sex discrimination under Title IX.  She also worked on an additional memo on problems in accessing health care for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender patients

We welcomed Eliot Kennedy, also a legal intern, who started on Wednesday. Eliot is already hard at work doing research on trends in medical care use by low-income transgender populations.

There’s just a quick glimpse at what we’re up to …


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