Study finds transgender military members fit to serve, calls for dropping ban

The Palm Center has released a report, put together by a non-partisan national commission that included former US Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders, concluding that the medical rationale for banning transgender service members is not only outdated and inaccurate, but inconsistent with established medical standards of care.

According to the commission's report:

There is no compelling medical reason for the ban," which the commissioners also found to be an "expensive, damaging and unfair barrier to health care access for the approximately 15,450 transgender personnel" who currently serve in uniform. "Medical regulations requiring the discharge of transgender personnel are inconsistent with how the military regulates all other medical and psychological conditions," the report found, "and transgender-related conditions appear to be the only gender-related conditions that require discharge irrespective of fitness for duty.

Additional findings include:

  • Medical conditions related to transgender identity are the only gender-related conditions requiring discharge irrespective of fitness for duty.
  • Eliminating the ban would advance numerous military interests, including enabling commanders to better care for their service members.
  • Other military regulations have been updated to reflect the latest consensus of psychiatric experts on mental health issues, but while that consensus no longer classifies gender non-conformity as a mental illness, military regulations have not been amended to reflect the latest understanding of the scientific community about gender non-conformity.
  • The prohibition on medically-necessary cross-sex hormone treatment is based on inaccurate understandings of the complexity, risks and efficacy of such treatments, and is inconsistent with the fact that many non-transgender military personnel use prescribed medications of similar strength, even while deployed to combat zones.
  • Non-transgender personnel are allowed to undergo reconstructive surgeries, while transgender personnel are barred from obtaining medically-necessary gender-confirming surgery, at great cost to their physical and mental health.
  • Existing medical and other regulations are fully adequate to govern the service of transgender personnel and any related medical conditions that arise.
  • The US military can look to the experiences and standards of at least twelve allied militaries that allow transgender service, as well as several inclusive US federal agencies, as models in formulating administrative policy to address fitness testing, records and identification, uniforms, housing and privacy for transgender military service.

There are over 8800 transgender people in active duty, roughly 6600 in the reserves and over 130,000 transgender veterans. These policies are based on the antiquated idea that being transgender is a mental illness and inherently makes transgender people unfit for duty. However, according to the study, being closeted under the threat of losing their livelihood causes undue stress that can lead to depression, and drug and alcohol abuse.

"Transgender people, like every other American, have the right to serve their country with honor and no fear of being discharged," said GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis. "Being transgender is not an indication of illness or weakness, but living in your own skin in the face of so much judgment and adversity is courageous and should be nurtured by our armed forces, not shunned."