A House member plans to introduce a bill this month that would allow transgender troops to serve openly in the military by repealing a ban that she says is outdated and doesn’t serve any military or medical need.
Rep. Jackie Speier, California Democrat, is writing a bill that would lift the ban on transgender troops serving and has asked other lawmakers to sign on as co-sponsors of the bill in a “Dear Colleague” letter.
“The current ban has hurt our troops and damaged our national defense for too long. Many in uniform endure tremendous challenges and setbacks — emotional, financial, and professional — because they are forced to serve in silence,” Ms. Speier wrote in the letter dated June 4. “We have the opportunity to follow through on our promise to support our troops, no matter their gender identity. Now is the time to allow our transgender troops to serve openly and honestly.”
An estimated 134,000 transgender troops have served in the military, including about 15,500 who are currently serving, according to the letter. Although the 2011 repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy allowed gays to serve without worrying that they could be kicked out for disclosing their sexual orientation, transgender troops still can be discharged for revealing their gender identity.
“They fight our wars, they serve honorably, but they do so at a price. They are forced to lie and hide their gender identity because of outdated policies prohibiting their open service,” Ms. Speier said.
During a question-and-answer session with troops in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in February, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said he simply wanted the best recruits possible and wanted the military to be an attractive place to work.
“I’m very open-minded about what their personal lives and proclivities are, provided they can do what we need them to do for us. That’s the important criteria. Are they going to be excellent service members?” Mr. Carter said. “I don’t think anything but their suitability for service should preclude them.”
The Pentagon declined to comment on whether it would support lifting the ban on transgender service. A spokesman said the department did not comment on pending legislation.
Advocates for gay military rights say allowing service members to serve openly as transgenders is long overdue.
“The ban caused by outdated military regulations unjustly harms not just our transgender service members, but their families as well,” said Ashley Broadway-Mack, president of the American Military Partner Association. “It’s far past time for all service members to be able to serve openly and honestly, regardless of their gender identity.”
Others say lawmakers should ignore the effort. Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, said the proposed policy could place unnecessary burdens on troops.
“Rep. Speier’s effort will not be taken seriously by responsible lawmakers who understand that our military should not be used to advance questionable social causes championed by The New York Times and Vanity Fair magazine,” said Ms. Donnelly, an outspoken critic of allowing gays to serve in the military. “Military personnel and health professionals should not be asked to shoulder the many complicated burdens that Rep. Speier’s legislation would impose.”
Despite the risk of discharge, some transgenders serve openly in the military. Two of them — Senior Airman Logan Ireland and his fiancee, Army Cpl. Laila Villanueva — will attend an LGBT Pride event Wednesday at the White House. Airman Ireland will be in male dress blues, the Air Force Times reported.
Kristin Beck, in 2013, was the first person to come out publicly as a transgender former Navy SEAL. After a 20-year military career, including time as a member of the elite SEAL Team 6 and 13 combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, Ms. Beck announced that she was a transgender woman 18 months after leaving the military, according to a CNN profile.
She said in February that she would challenge House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, for his congressional seat next year.
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