Now that the midterms are over, President Obama has an opportunity to further his legacy as a strong supporter of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans and as a leader who understands that making U.S. armed forces more equal makes them stronger. President Obama should ask Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to review the rules governing military service by transgender people with the ultimate goal of removing the current provisions that require their discharge. The current ban is outdated, unfair, and serves only to deprive the armed services of dedicated and qualified members, many of whom have served for years and want nothing more than to continue to dedicate their skills and experience to military service.
There is a growing coalition of support for initiating this reform. Moreover, no action from Congress is needed to repeal this rule. Just as the demise of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has been shown not to have negatively impacted the military, eliminating the ban on transgender military service members will lead to more inclusive and stronger armed forces.
Eliminating the ban is the right thing to do. The Palm Center noted that an estimated 15,500 transgender personnel are currently serving in our nation’s military. The ban not only forces transgender service members to keep their identities hidden or face being discharged, but also bars those who transitioned before seeking to join the military.
Much of the groundwork has already been laid for the ban to be lifted. In a comprehensive analysis issued this past August, the Palm Center provided a blueprint for how to adopt an inclusive policy while maintaining military readiness. Militaries in Canada and Australia have already adopted inclusive policies with great success, providing guidance and a model for the U.S. As the Palm Center notes, eliminating the ban on service by transgender military personnel is both easy to administer and consistent with promoting the military’s core values and principles of honor and integrity. Like all other military personnel, transgender military service members deserve to serve alongside their peers with dignity and respect.
Last May, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said he was open to the idea of reform, but that he needed more time to study the issue and hear from individuals. That was six months ago, and it is time for action. Every day that this ban stays in place, it undermines American values and military readiness.
Now is the time to order the review and dispense with this rule and its harmful impact both on transgender people and our nation’s armed services.