Policy/Biz

'No Medical Reason' To Continue Military Ban On Transgender Service Members, Commission Says

Former Surgeon General Says Transgender Soldiers Should Serve
Former Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders says the military should end its decades-long ban on transgender service members. The move might make life easier on the estimated 15,500 transgender people in the Armed Forces. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

No medical reason justifies the continued closeting of some 15,500 transgender members of the Armed Services, a commission led by a former surgeon general has concluded.

The five-member panel led by Clinton-era Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders urged the Obama administration to end the decades-long ban on transgender service members. The implorement follows last year’s end to the generation-old “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that required service members to remain closeted about homosexual identities.

Convened by a liberal think-tank at San Francisco State University, the commission released a report on Thursday noting a dozen other nations around the world that permit transgender people to serve in the military. The members also said the ban itself may cause medical harm by compelling some service members to seek surgical disguise with cosmetic procedures.

"We determined not only that there is no compelling medical reason for the ban, but also that the ban itself is an expensive, damaging, and unfair barrier to health care access for the approximately 15,450 transgender personnel who serve currently in the active, Guard and reserve components," the commission said in a statement, according to The Guardian.

The commission says the military instituted the ban in the 1960s prior to the development of more advanced theories on the brain and sexuality, when most psychiatrists believed transgender people to suffer from a mental disorder, an opinion that has since been revised. However, the military says it has no plans to end the ban, with Obama’s White House deflecting questions to the Pentagon.

"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," Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a spokesman, told reporters.

Like children begging parents to adopt a puppy, the commission found that accommodating openly transgender service members “would place almost no burden on the military.” If permitted to serve openly, only a fraction of the estimated 15,500 transgender service members would elect to undergo sex-change surgery, presenting commanders with few complications. Only 230 service members per year would likely opt for the surgery. U.S. friends and allies Australia, Canada, England, and Israel all allow transgender people to serve in their militaries, Elders and her colleagues noted.

"I hope their takeaway will be we should evaluate every one of our people on the basis of their ability and what they can do, and if they have a condition we can treat we would treat it like we would treat anyone else," Elders told the Associated Press. Likewise, retired Brig. Gen. Thomas Kolditz said ending the ban would lower assaults and suicides, while removing the national security risk presented by closeted service members susceptible to blackmail or undue psychological stress.

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