Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 11 / 15 March 2018

Military updates policies
for LGBT troops


Defense Secretary Ashton Carter
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Timed to coincide with its Pride Month observance, the Department of Defense announced this week it is extending non-discrimination protections to lesbian, gay, and bisexual troops.

Although the policy change does not cover transgender military personnel, two branches of the armed forces have taken steps this year to protect transgender service members from being discharged because of their gender identity.

At a ceremony at the Pentagon Tuesday, June 9, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced the DoD would update its Military Equal Opportunity program to include sexual orientation, but not gender identity, as a protected class. Sexual orientation-based discrimination will now be treated the same way as the U.S. military treats discrimination based on race, religion, color, sex, age, and national origin.

"Discrimination of any kind has no place in America's armed forces," Carter said.

LGBT advocates praised the move to protect LGB troops while urging for further action to protect the estimated 15,500 transgender service members.

"This long overdue and critical change to the Military Equality Opportunity program will help ensure that LGB service members are treated fairly with the dignity and respect they deserve," stated Ashley Broadway-Mack, president of the American Military Partner Association. "But it's incredibly important to note that we absolutely cannot leave our transgender service members behind."

The Human Rights Campaign also praised Carter's announcement, as it had called on the Obama administration in its 2015 Blueprint for Positive Change to update the MEO program. At the same time, the national LGBT rights group also called for the armed services "outdated regulations to be updated to allow open and honest service by transgender service members."

"We appreciate the leadership of Secretary Carter in advancing this unfinished business of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' repeal which is an important step to ensure LGB service members are treated equally," stated HRC government affairs director David Stacy. "To reach our goal of full LGBT equality in the military, it's also crucially important that the ban on transgender service members be lifted by updating outdated regulations that prevent them from serving openly and honestly."

There has been some movement toward allowing transgender service members to serve openly without fear of being discharged.

The Air Force announced June 4 a change to its decision authority for involuntary separations for enlisted airmen diagnosed with gender dysphoria or who identify themselves as transgender.

"Though the Air Force policy regarding involuntary separation of gender dysphoric airmen has not changed, the elevation of decision authority to the director, Air Force Review Boards Agency, ensures the ability to consistently apply the existing policy," stated Daniel Sitterly, the principal deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for Manpower and Reserve Affairs.

The change followed a similar one instituted by the Army in March. In both branches of the military, neither gender dysphoria nor self-identification as transgender is an automatic circumstance that generates involuntary separation.

For airmen, a recommendation for discharge because of gender dysphoria must be supported by a report of evaluation by a psychiatrist or Ph.D.-level clinical psychologist. In addition, after consultation with medical professionals, a commander must determine that the condition interferes with duty requirements, including potential deployment, or duty performance.

Identification as transgender, absent a record of poor duty performance, misconduct, or a medically disqualifying condition, is no longer a basis for involuntary separation from the Air Force.

If command recommends involuntary separation of an enlisted airman for gender dysphoria or for another reason and the enlisted airman has self-identified as transgender, separation action must first be reviewed by the secretary of the Air Force Personnel Council for recommendation, and is then decided by the director of the Air Force Review Boards Agency.

"This is a significant step forward for a portion of roughly 15,000 current transgender service members across all branches," stated Allyson Robinson, director of policy at SPARTA, which is derived from Servicemembers, Partners, and Allies for Respect and Tolerance for All. "However, we need a consistent solution across all the services."

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