Pentagon Drops Ban on Transgender Soldiers

Pentagon Drops Ban on Transgender Soldiers

Last week, the Pentagon officially lifted its longstanding ban on transgender people serving openly in the US armed forces. According to the Washington Post:

[Defense Secretary Ashton] Carter said at a news conference that the policy change will take place over the next 12 months, beginning with guidance issued to current transgender service members and their commanders, followed by training for the entire military. Beginning Thursday, however, service members can no longer be involuntarily separated from the services solely on the basis of being transgender, he said. …

The details of the transgender policy change appeared to strike a compromise between some issues at play. Notably, transgender people who want to join the military will be required to wait 18 months after a doctor certifies that they are stable in their new gender before they can enlist. Defense officials familiar with the discussions have said that the Army and Marine Corps pressed to wait two years, while the Navy and Air Force thought 12 months were sufficient.

Celebrating the phaseout of the ban, Vox’s German Lopez asserts that the military’s slow but steady movement toward embracing openly LGBT soldiers is good for both those soldiers and the military itself:

The most obvious way the LGBTQ soldier bans hurt the military is by limiting the pool of people the military could recruit. But the bans had another detrimental effect: They hindered LGBTQ troops who served in hiding and, by extension, the forces they were deployed with. When I asked LGBTQ soldiers and veterans about how it felt to serve while hiding their true identities, they consistently reported feeling like traitors — and all the stress that comes with that. …

But for trans soldiers, the ban also posed a risk to their health. … If trans people can’t transition as they wish, it can worsen their gender dysphoria — a state of emotional distress caused by how someone’s body or the gender they were designated at birth conflicts with their gender identity. Severe gender dysphoria can lead to anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. Untreated dysphoria is an oft-cited reason trans men are 46 percent likely and trans women are 42 percent likely to attempt suicide in their lifetime, compared with 4.6 percent of the general population.

So what lessons, we might ask, does the Pentagon’s experience offer for other organizations? Well, for one thing, when LGBT people are compelled to hide their identities at work, they and their work can both suffer greatly. That puts a keen edge on the finding of a recent survey that nearly half of LGBT employees in the US are closeted at work:

A global study by the Center for Talent Innovation found that 46 percent of LGBT employees in the United States are not out in their professional lives; even in other accepting countries, sizable majorities are closeted — 61 percent in Brazil, 57 percent in South Africa, and 53 percent in the United Kingdom. Furthermore, the percentages of closeted employees are far higher in India (67 percent), China (70 percent), Hong Kong (78 percent) and Russia (80 percent).

Across our ten-market sample, a quarter of respondents who are closeted at work fear exposure to teasing, ridicule, or harassment. Other respondents worry about the deterioration of relationships with their colleagues, the possibility of adverse employment action on the job, or even termination. …

Despite stories testifying to the transformational effects of “coming out,” there’s an unforeseen challenge awaiting LGBT individuals on the other side of the closet door at work: the demand that they “cover,” or downplay their identities. On the journey to full inclusion, nearly half of the respondents (48 percent) in our ten-country survey avoid drawing attention to their LGBT identity in the presence of colleagues who know they are LGBT.