On Thursday afternoon, the Pentagon announced that transgender people can now serve openly in the military — bringing the U.S. in line with Britain, Canada, Australia and 15 other nations which have eliminated trans military exclusions.
By ending this ban, the government recognizes that transgender people do not choose their gender identity or expression, but that their gender identity or expression differs from those traditionally associated with their assigned sex at birth. Accordingly, hormone therapy, gender-transition surgery, and other kinds of medical care are not elective, but crucial to maintaining the holistic health of transgender people as they serve in the military. It’s a critical, and long overdue, correction.
Yet, as only around 0.3% of Americans identify as transgender, this move hasn’t received as much attention as the 2015 ruling that enabled lesbian, gay and bisexual people to serve openly. On its face, that makes enough sense: the LGB population is more than 10 times the size of the trans population, so more people stood to be affected then. Those statistics tell one story, but there’s a more interesting one that’s been overlooked: Transgender individuals are twice as likely to join the armed forces as the average American.
Trans individuals serve in the military at twice the rate of the general population.
Until this point, there has been no class protection for transgender service members. Some have been affirmed and accepted by their military colleagues. Others have been harassed, hazed, even expelled by the military therapists they’ve consulted for support. Nine percent of transgender people in the military reported that they were discharged from service for being transgender or gender non-conforming. “This is a relatively small community,” says Aaron Belkin, who studies trans service members as director of the Palm Center, “but it is very disruptive to mission and readiness when troops can’t be honest about who they are, and are unable to get medically necessary care.”
Thursday’s ruling puts the Pentagon in line with the research officials commissioned, which noted that when other nations allowed openly transgender service members their ranks benefited from “a more inclusive and diverse force.”
This weekend, as we’re waving flags and launching fireworks, may we also take a moment to remember that, for all of its faults, we still live in one of the freest countries on Earth. Lifting the ban on openly transgender service members makes our military more reflective of the range of freedoms it was created to protect. That’s worth celebrating.
Batchelor Warnke is an intern in The Times’ Opinion section. Follow her on Twitter @velvetmelvis.