Pentagon reconsiders ban on transgender troops

by Kelly Ledbetter, |
Ashton Carter (L), U.S. President Barack Obama's nominee for Secretary of Defense, reacts to a kiss from his wife Stephanie (R) at the end of his day long testimony before a Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 4, 2015. | REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

WASHINGTON (Christian Examiner) – Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter announced a two-fold plan to begin to allow the transgendered to serve openly in the military.

The first step will be to conduct a six-month study on the effects of raising the ban, which currently prohibits the transgendered from serving.

Carter said that those conducting the study would "start with the presumption that transgender persons can serve openly without adverse impact on military effectiveness and readiness, unless and except where objective, practical impediments are identified." The working group will be comprised of military from all branches, as well as civilians.

The second step will be to alter the way that the transgendered can be dismissed from service by requiring review by the Pentagon's undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness rather than by high-ranking officers within the service branches.

Many parties hailed this announcement as good news.

Aaron Belkin, director of Palm Center, which researches gender and military issues, stated: "Today's announcement is welcome news, not just for the 15,500 transgender personnel serving currently, but for all Americans. The review process should be informed by social science research and the lessons of 18 foreign militaries that have lifted their bans."

Likewise, Human Rights Campaign President Chad Wilson said, "Transgender Americans have every right to serve their country openly and honestly, and for far too long, this discriminatory ban has robbed them of the dignity of doing so."

To others like former psychiatrist in chief at Johns Hopkins, Paul McHugh, the announcement is a mistake.

In an opinion in the Wall Street Journal, McHugh wrote, "Claiming that this is civil-rights matter and encouraging surgical intervention is in reality to collaborate with and promote a mental disorder."

About the transgendered, McHugh described them as suffering a disorder of assumption related to their gender, which he compares to anorexia or bulimia nervosa in giving a person a skewed assumption about his or her body. Disordered assumptions about gender, also sometimes called gender dysphoria, can govern "like ruling passions in their subjects' minds and tend to be accompanied by a solipsistic argument.

"For the transgendered, this argument holds that one's feeling of 'gender' is a conscious, subjective sense that, being in one's mind, cannot be questioned by others. The individual often seeks not just society's tolerance of this 'personal truth' but affirmation of it."

He ascribes the need for affirmation to the demand for transgender equality.

Currently, individuals with gender dysphoria are barred from service for medical reasons.

USA Today has drawn parallels with the way that the military is addressing transgendered troops and the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy regarding homosexuality. Before gay and lesbian troops were permitted to serve in 2011, "commanders intent on discharging troops [were forced] to make their case to the highest levels of civilian leadership. That is considered a risky career move."

The similarity between Carter's announcement and the conditions that led to the inclusion of homosexual troops has led to the assumption that transgendered troops will soon be permitted to serve openly. Carter's language about the study "presumes they can serve and puts the burden on opponents to argue why they should be banned."

Previous studies conducted on transgendered military personnel have indicated a high risk for suicide, in addition to numerous psychosocial problems, not least of which, McHugh says, is confusion.

In his press release, Carter concluded: "As I've said before, we must ensure that everyone who's able and willing to serve has the full and equal opportunity to do so, and we must treat all our people with the dignity and respect they deserve."


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