Policy Change Gives Confidence to Transgender Soldiers

The U.S. Army could be marching toward allowing transgender troops to serve.

On Friday, the U.S. Army announced discharge orders for transgender soldiers now requires the approval of the Assistant Secretary of the Army, not local unit commanders. The change in policy makes it more difficult for soldiers to be discharged because of their gender identity.

The military still has a ban on transgender personnel, but this small elevation of responsibility could point the way to a repeal.

“It’s possible that it will have no effect in terms of day-to-day practice, and it’s possible that it may serve in effect as a moratorium even though the ban remains in place,” said Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, a think tank and research organization that studies gender, sexuality and the military.

A similar policy change happened before the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” when the military elevated responsibility of discharging openly gay members to senior level commanders. The procedural switch had a partial effect in freezing discharges underway because it sent the signal that the policy was under repeal, Belkin said. Military leaders were less likely to start up proceedings against openly gay servicemen and women because they saw the signs of “don’t ask, don’t tell” coming to an end.

Whether the transgender discharge policy change will have the same affect is still up in the air, but if it does lead to the actual transgender ban going under review, Belkin said he’s confident Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and the rest of the Pentagon will come to the same conclusion as the Palm Center has after extensive research.

“Transgender personnel serve already and serve effectively,” Belkin said. “Eighteen foreign militaries allow transgender personnel to serve. Research shows that when the ban is lifted, implementation will be successful and will not be complicated or burdensome.”

Allowing transgender personnel be active members of the army would affect more than just those wanting to serve the military. The Rev. Stan Sloan, CEO of social service agency Chicago House, said the policy change is a step in the right direction, as one sector’s move toward equality helps others fall in line.

“This decision by the army gives us another arrow in our quiver to combat discrimination in the hiring, firing and day-to-day treatment of trans issues in the workplace,” Sloan said. “A lot of hard work and barriers still lay ahead of us … but we will get there.”