Expert commission to President Obama: Drop the military's bigoted ban on transgender service members

There is no reason for the military to ban trans service members from serving openly, the report says

Katie McDonough
March 14, 2014 1:15AM (UTC)

There is "no compelling medical reason" for the military to prohibit transgender people from serving openly, and President Obama has the authority to lift the ban without the approval of Congress, according to an independent commission led by former U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders.

Put another way, a prohibition on trans service members is now and has always been senseless bigotry, plain and simple.


But like the ban on gay and lesbian service members or women in combat rolls, the official prohibition on trans service members does not mean that trans people have not served in the military, just that they have long been forced to do so invisibly.

As the Associated Press notes, the Williams Institute estimates that around 15,500 trans personnel are currently in the military, though many serve under their birth gender and have transitioned in a manner that has not altered their appearance.

Army Reserve Capt. Sage Fox began taking female hormones in 2013 following a deployment to Kuwait. In November, she discussed her transition with her battalion commander and initially believe she may be able to continue to serve with the support of her battalion in spite of the ban. A few days later, she was placed on inactive status, which had nothing to do with her ability to serve.


"When I transitioned, I wasn't just a good officer, I became a better officer because I didn't have to deal with that conflict anymore," she told the Associated Press.

The commission also concluded that facilitating trans service members' transitions "would place almost no burden on the military," estimating that approximately 230 trans personnel would seek such surgery each year at an average cost of about $30,000. The panel also found that hormone treatment in such cases is nearly identical in scope to health care services regularly provided to cisgender service members.

Several countries, including Australia, Canada, England and Israel, already have policies that empower trans people to serve openly; the commission has recommended that President Obama issue an executive order to lift the ban.


But change may come slowly, if it comes at all. "At this time there are no plans to change the department's policy and regulations which do not allow transgender individuals to serve in the U.S. military," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a defense department spokesman, in response to the report.

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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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Anti-transgender Discrimination Bigotry Lgbtq Rights Military Trans Rights U.s. Military

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