Two months after a former U.S. surgeon general-led independent commission found “no compelling medical reason” to ban transgender Americans from enlisting in the military, it seems the topic could be up for formal discussion. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told ABC News’ This Week with George Stephanopoulos that he is open to reviewing the military’s current policy that prohibits transgender soldiers because every “qualified American” should have the chance to serve.
“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” officially came to an end on Sept. 20, 2011, eradicating a 17-year ban on openly gay men and women entering the military. Since then, advocates for the transgender community have lobbied for the government to reconsider its stance on allowing transgender individuals to serve in the military. When ABC’s Martha Raddatz asked Hagel about his position on transgender soldiers in the military, he responded: “I do think it continually should be reviewed. I’m open to that, by the way. I’m open to those assessments, because, again, I go back to the bottom line. Every qualified American who wants to serve our country should have an opportunity if they fit the qualifications and can do it. This is an area that we’ve not defined enough.”
Although Hagel admitted the argument presented by activists who have called for a change of the outdated perspective on sexuality in the military merits debate over a policy revision, he also recognized that transgender people require medical concessions that could pose a problem in active military service. He continued: “The issue of transgender is a bit more complicated because it has a medical component to it. These issues require medical attention. Austere locations where we put our men and women in many cases, don’t always provide that kind of opportunity.”
For example, both female-to-male (FTM) and male-to-female (MTF) transgenders require hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to help balance the recent change in the body’s sex hormones. FTM transgender individuals must receive a steady dosage of androgens, and MTF transgenders must receive estrogen to help align secondary sexual characteristics with their new gender identity.
According to the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), there are already thousands of transgender Americans serving in all branches of the military; however, they are forced to hide their sexuality over fear of losing their career. Current medical regulations for military service have been deemed outdated and in some cases result in the discharge of service members who are exposed as transgender.
"This willingness to evaluating changes to the medical regulations is overdue but very welcome,” Mara Keisling, NCTE executive director, said in a statement. “If the Secretary were able to meet and talk with the trans service members I've met, he'd understand the answer is self-evident. These are amazing people who serve even though they must hide a basic part of who they are."