The Department of Defense on Friday implemented a new set of rules for transgender service members, policies opponents say amount to a ban on transgender people serving in the military.
President Donald Trump pushed for changes that were championed by then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who reported transgender people could threaten the readiness and effectiveness of the armed forces.
Transgender people were first allowed to join the military and identify themselves as such in 2016, following an order by then-Secretary of Defense Ash Carter.
Under the new directive outlined in a 15-page memo, current service members who identify as a gender other than what’s indicated on their birth certificate had until yesterday to produce a doctor’s diagnosis of “gender dysphoria,” a term used in psychiatry to describe a conflict between one’s biological gender and the gender with which they identify.
“If I'm sitting here and I'm not transitioned, I feel this disconnect between the way people perceive me and the way I perceive myself,” said Sue Robbins, a trans woman and retired Army veteran in Salt Lake City, describing gender dysphoria.
Robbins served 20 years while living as a man between 1979 and 1999, coming out and transitioning to female after her military career. She feels the new policy constitutes a ban on people like her.
“Don't be yourself, but it's OK to be in the military,” she said. “If you can't say who you are, how can you possibly serve as yourself?
Service members who secured the doctor’s note in time can pursue military-funded transitions, which may include anything from changing a name or wardrobe to surgery and hormone therapy. It may look different from person to person.
New transgender recruits must arrive already transitioned or live their life in the military in accordance with their biological sex, “without clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning”
Essentially, the military is OK with transgender people who are functioning fine without a transition and transgender people who have already successfully completed a transition but is not seeking people who fall in between those two categories.
“The best I can come up with is this is a wedge issue, something to rile up a base,” Robbins said. “There are now individuals in the service who have not received a diagnosis who now have to abide by don't ask, don't tell.”
A 2016 study performed by the nonprofit global policy think tank, the Rand Corporation, estimated there are between 1,320 and 6,630 active duty service members who are trans across all branches.