Research institute receives $1.35 million to examine transgender service in U.S. military

The Transgender Military Initiative will be the most comprehensive research project on transgender service to date

Published July 31, 2013 1:26PM (EDT)

  (Wikimedia Commons)
(Wikimedia Commons)

The Palm Center, a California-based research institute that examined issues associated with the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for more than a decade, received a $1.35 million grant to study transgender service in the American military, according to a report from BuzzFeed.

The Palm Center’s Transgender Military Initiative, led by project director Indra Lusero, has commissioned 11 studies that will investigate "whether and how the U.S. armed forces could include transgender troops without undermining readiness."

Under current military policy, transgender individuals are barred from serving because "gender dysphoria" -- a medical and psychological term used to describe the experiences of transgender and gender nonconforming individuals, and which is not marked as a disorder in the DSM-V -- is classified by the military as a mental illness. Gender-affirming surgeries can also medically disqualify prospective troops, according to Pentagon regulations.

Because military policy bars transgender troops, it is currently unknown how many may be serving while remaining in the closet. According to a 2011 study by the Williams Institute, there are nearly 700,000 transgender individuals in the United States.

“This academic research will inform an important public conversation by providing facts and evidence about transgender military service and gender expression in armed forces," Lusero told BuzzFeed. "Militaries around the world are updating their policies, and we are already conducting research in Canada, Britain and Australia to learn whether their trans-inclusive regulations have impacted readiness."

While it is not often discussed in mainstream press, the contributions of transgender service members came to national attention this summer after a retired SEAL Team 6 member, Kristen Beck (formerly Chris Beck), came out as transgender.

As Salon noted in June, Beck shared her experience of grappling with her gender identity while serving in the military's elite forces in a recent memoir, which advocates say may clear the way for others to come out with their own stories. The Transgender Military Initiative, the most comprehensive research project conducted on transgender service to date, will likely do the same.

By Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at

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Don't Ask Don't Tell Lgbt Rights Military Transgender People Transgender Rights U.s. Armed Forces