Military lifts ban on trans people serving openly
While this story may not have gotten as much press as others, it was deeply felt in the transgender community and a huge victory for all those who serve or have served.
It is estimated that 13% of the American population have served in the military, and that percentage is roughly double for the transgender population. The National Center for Transgender Equality estimates “over 134,000 American veterans are transgender, and over 15,000 trans people are serving in military today despite rules forbidding them to serve openly.” NCTE states that “restrictions on open service continue to bring an early end to the careers of qualified service members, even though those rules lack any basis in medicine or military need.”
A March 2014 study backed by a former U.S. Surgeon General and performed by the Palm Center, the independent San Francisco-based think tank, concluded there is “no compelling medical reason” to continue to deny open military service to transgender Americans. The American Medical Association also backed this up with the following statement: “The AMA has taken the stand that there is no medical justification to exclude transgender people from military service or provide different standards of care to transgender military service members,” said Dr. Brian Hurley, GLMA’s Delegate to the AMA. “I’m proud that the AMA has made an important contribution toward ending transgender military exclusion and advancing transgender equality.”
Many people don’t realize that when the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy was repealed in September of 2011 it had no effect on transgender people serving in the military because of outdated regulations still in place. But progress is being made thanks to the efforts of people like Sgt. Shane Ortega, a helicopter crew chief in the Army’s 25th Infantry Division and the first openly trans soldier in the United States military currently serving on active duty and who is also a leader of the Military Freedom Coalition, and Kristin Beck, who retired in 2011 after a distinguished 20 year career as a Navy SEAL including seven combat deployments, and who is currently running for Congress.
In July the Pentagon announced plans to begin the process to lift the ban on transgender troops serving openly in the military. An early draft of the timeline has the ban being lifted in May of 2016. Pentagon officials will also consider a pilot program which would allow transgender troops under medical treatment to take a sabbatical from service, returning to the ranks after they have made their transition to the other gender. Also under consideration is a review of the discharge status of transgender troops who have already been kicked out of the military.
Sgt. Shane Ortega is a helicopter crew chief in the Army’s 25th Infantry Division and the first openly transgender soldier in the military currently serving on active duty. He has been at the forefront in the push to gain acceptance for transgender service members and to allow them to openly serve in the military, and is a leader of the Military Freedom Coalition. He also actively competes as a bodybuilder and placed 4th in the NPC men’s physique division.
Ortega has been on over 400 combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan during his three combat tours, two in Iraq, one in Afghanistan, including two as a Marine and one in the Army, and two as a woman and one as a man. He lives as a man and always presents as male except when forced to wear the women’s Army dress uniform during official occasions, and has observed that in combat zones his gender identity was not an issue because he does his job and has earned the respect of those he has served with.
Earlier this year Ortega stepped into the national spotlight in a Washington Post article on the U.S. military’s continued policy against service by transgender people, becoming the institution’s most publicly visible active-duty trans soldier. It was a difficult decision because it could have jeopardized his status with the military, although Ortega had already quietly let the U.S. Army know, through the American Civil Liberties Union, that he would not passively accept being separated from the Army duty for being transgender. Ortega made the decision to go public because he knew it could have major implications for every other transgender person serving in the U.S. military. Ortega has stated he will “continue to fight this fight for the 700,000 transgender veterans that have gone before me who were forced to choose between serving their country and being true to who they are.”
Kristin Beck running for Congress
Kristin Beck is a retired Navy SEAL who took part in 13 deployments, including seven combat deployments. Beck was a member of the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, a special counter-terrorism unit better known as SEAL Team Six, and received multiple military awards and decorations, including a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. Beck is the author of Warrior Princess: A U.S. Navy SEAL’s Journey to Coming out Transgender which details her life and transition.
Kristin has been very active making public speaking appearances on behalf of transgender issues and trying to promote diversity and acceptance, and has played an important role in the battle to let transgender people serve openly in the military, which was a major victory earlier this year when the Pentagon announced it was lifting the ban early next year. In February Kristin announced her candidacy to challenge Rep. Steny Hoyer for Maryland’s 5th Congressional District. Her campaign platform focuses on better education, a cleaner environment, and more fiscal responsibility. Beck’s campaign continues to gain momentum and a win would make her the first transgender person to hold a seat in Congress.