United States Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in an interview Sunday that the military’s ban on trans people is a complicated issue, but one that “continually should be reviewed.” His statements could lead to big changes for the estimated 15,450 trans service members who were left in the closet when the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal allowed gay and lesbian soldiers to come out in 2011.
“I’m open to those assessments because, again, I go back to the bottom line: every qualified American who wants to serve our country should have an opportunity, if they fit the qualifications and can do it,” he said.
Despite serving at about double the rates of rest of the population, trans people in the U.S. are still officially banned from the armed forces. If they come or are forced out, they can be and often are immediately discharged. Concerns about trans people serving tend to focus on medical care and troop morale, two topics that have been addressed both anecdotally by soldiers who have come out and via studies like the one issued by the Palm Center in March. That investigation found “no compelling medical reason” for the ban, which was introduced in the 1960s but has not been updated even as medical and psychological associations across the nation recognize trans identities as valid rather than mental illnesses.
The Palm Center panel included a former U.S. Surgeon General and a former chief health and safety director for the Coast Guard, but there was some doubt that military higher-ups would pay the study much attention. Hagel’s statements this week prove that a conversation about the ban is happening at some level, even if it’s not as informed as one would hope — Hagel referenced those same medical concerns that have been shown to be unfounded. The next step is to make sure military and defense officials like Hagel are as informed on these issues as possible before they make decisions that affect thousands of Americans.
Feature image: AP Photo by Rich Pedroncelli