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Transgender Military Service

Last Updated:2019-Jan-21
Principal Writer:Barry Shatzman

Issue Sections

Understanding The Issue
Issue Status
More Information

Reported News


Related Bills

Allow Transgender in Armed Forces

2019 (HR-1032)

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What is this about

This issue is about the ability of openly transgender people to serve in the military.

Historically, openly transgender people had been prohibited from serving in the U.S. military. This restriction was removed under the Barack Obama administration - allowing openly transgender individuals to serve.

The Donald Trump administration is attempting to reinstate the restriction.

How we got where we are today


In June 2016, President Barack Obama ended the ban, meaning that current members of the military could be open about being transgender.


Starting in January 2017, transgender people would have been allowed to enlist under Obama's directive.

Donald Trump put that on hold, and in July 2017 announced that transgender people would again be banned from serving.

A judge blocked the ban while lawsuits were being litigated.


0n Jan. 1, 2018 openly transgender people were allowed to enlist for the first time.

In March 2018, the administration issued a new policy. The new policy doesn't explicitly disqualify transgender people from serving. Rather it disqualifies those diagnosed with gender dysphoria - a medical term essentially describing the mental health issues someone who is transgender would face.

Lawsuits have kept the new policy from being implemented - as judges in the cases issued injunctions until the cases could be resolved.


In Jan. 2019, the Supreme Court voted to lift most of the injunctions against the Trump policy.

The new policy still cannot take effect as one injunction remains.

What is different between the two policies?

A service member's situation would be determined by the policy that was in effect at the time they joined the Armed Forces.

Obama policy

Someone with gender dysphoria would be disqualified unless they have been stable and without serious distress for 18 months.

Someone who has undergone gender transition must have completed all treatment and has been stable in their preferred gender for 18 months.

A transgender person serves as the gender listed in their record in the Armed Forces Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting (DEERS) database. They can request to have their gender marker changed.

If gender transition is medically indicated for someone, the military would pay for any treatments.

Trump policy

Someone with gender dysphoria would be disqualified if they have had a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria anytime in the prior 3 years.

They must not have undergone gender transition.

They must serve as the gender they were assigned at birth.

They would not be allowed to pursue a gender transition if they remain in the military.

What does it mean to serve as a particular gender?

Serving as a particular gender means conforming to standards for uniforms and grooming for that particular gender. It also means using the sleeping space, bathrooms, and showers for that gender while a service member is stationed within the Armed Forces.

The default under any policy is that service members adhere to their assigned gender in DEERS.

Under the Obama policy, a service member's commander may accommodate their situation. Under the Trump policy, that never would be allowed.

Evidence provided by DoD is misleading

The 48-page memo to justify the new policy does not cite specific problems that have been encountered with transgender troops.

It cites issues such as physical restrictions that someone who has undergone gender transition could not adhere to, ability to deploy, and increased medical costs.

An analysis of the memo by the Palm Center research institute addresses each point - pointing out where the DoD memo either was disingenuous or deliberately false.

We list below some of the inaccuracies explained in the Palm Center study.

Physical Standards

The DoD memo claims that allowing someone to enlist who has been diagnosed with gender dysphoria or who had undergone gender transition would violate standards that apply to everyone. A history of chest surgery or hormone therapy automatically disqualifies anyone for enlistment, the DoD memo states.

The DoD is misstating its own policy, according to the Palm Center. Chest surgery is disqualifying for only six months. And women are not disqualified from enlisting simply because they are prescribed hormones to manage gynecological conditions.

Ability to Deploy

The DoD memo provides hypothetical reasons why someone diagnosed with gender dysphoria would not be able to successfully deploy without being a liability.

"Accommodating gender transition could impair unit readiness; undermine unit cohesion, as well as good order and discipline," the report states.

It does not provide evidence of any such effects. And after the memo was released, it was contradicted by Army Chief of Staff Mark Milley, who testified to the Senate that, "I have received precisely zero reports of issues of cohesion, discipline, morale and all those sorts of things."

The DoD's own data shows that 40 percent of service members diagnosed with gender dysphoria deployed to the Middle East, and only one service member couldn't complete the deployment for mental health reasons.

Mental Health Issues

The DoD memo states that transgender persons suffer from higher rates of mental health conditions - including thoughts of suicide - than the general population.

According to the American Medical Association (AMA), treatment such as hormone therapy and gender transition are effective in treating those. A statement from the organization's president said "There is no medically valid reason to exclude transgender individuals from military service. Transgender individuals are serving their country with honor, and they should be allowed to continue doing so."

The statistics for suicide cited by the DoD are based on people who underwent gender transition as early as 1973. But as with many medical conditions, outcomes have improved over time. A more recent study - by the same organization that conducted the one cited by the DoD - showed that from 1989 - 2003 there was no difference in the number of suicide attempts compared to control groups.

Medical Costs

The DoD report claims that the cost of caring for troops with gender dysphoria is expensive compared to the general military population.

The Palm Center points out that comparing a group with any condition against a general population would show higher costs for that group. They calculate that the extra cost for transgender service members comes to less than $13 per month.

Other Countries

Though the DoD memo claims there is insufficient evidence to demonstrate that transgender individuals are as likely to succeed in the Armed Forces as anyone else, it fails to cite successes in the militaries of 18 nations that allow transgender troops, including Canada and Israel.

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