Transgender policy changes continue to shape U.S. Military

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. John Hughel
  • 142nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
At the conclusion of WWII, President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Orders 9980 and 9981, ending discrimination in the federal work force and the armed forces. Earlier this summer, and nearly 70 years later, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter announced the military will lift the band on transgender troops openly serving, eliminating one of the last barriers of equal opportunity in the U.S. military since President Truman's historic affirmation.

The policy issues have a deadline of July 1, 2017 to be fully implemented, yet during the September Regularly Scheduled Drill (RSD) here, members of the 142nd Fighter Wing were able to engage the changes as part of the monthly Diversity and Inclusion Counsel meeting.

As the Executive Director for the TransActive Gender Center in Portland, Jenn Burleton led an engaging presentation titled "In Service to Our Country" that specifically focused on Transgendered Americans currently serving in the military. With policy changes, the setting allowed those attending to first begin to understand how gender is assigned by gender role compared to experience.

"It is first important to understand the term transgender and how individuals who do not experience an essential match between being male or female with their assigned gender role," Burleton said.

Statistically, 95% of Americans are cisgender, meaning they identify with the sex they were assigned at birth. For them, it can be a challenge to try and understand how a person born with a penis and raised as a man can identify as a woman. Raising the visibility of gender identity has been the issue of gender assigned public restrooms and locker rooms. In March, the State of North Carolina passed a wide-ranging bill excluding transgendered individuals from using bathrooms that do not match the gender established on their birth certificates.

Burleton pointed out there are zero reported U.S. cases of a transgender person exposing or assaulting someone in a restroom or locker room.

"This is something we all do, each of us just wants to be able to use a facility when we need to do the most basic of human functions," she said.

In describing some of the policy and cultural changes in the military, Burleton spoke from experience. Having enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corp in 1970, she had to confront her gender identity during her enlistment.

"I probably was one of the first cases of someone being open about being a transwoman," she explained. "I receive an honorable discharge but I wanted to serve my country even though I had a high draft number and probably would have never been drafted anyway."

In announcing the immediate changes to the policy on June 30, 2016, Secretary Carter described why the Defense Department changed the policy now.

"Our mission is to defend this country," he said, "We don't want barriers unrelated to a person's qualifications to serve preventing us from recruiting or retaining the soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine who can best accomplish the mission."

The new DoD policies will be implemented in stages over the next 12 months. With an estimated 7,000 active and reserved transgender service members, the new policy allows for guidance and clarity in the coming year. The policies and procedures set forth flexibility to the different services and commanders but it begins with members notifying their commander to start the necessary medical care and treatment.

As more guidance from the DoD takes place, training the entire force will factor in how to start accessing new service members who are transgender. By October 1, 2016, the DoD will publish the Commander's Training Handbook along with medical guidance, policies and procedures. By July 1, 2017, all training should be complete with full compliance for recruiting and policies in place.

At the conclusion of the Diversity Council meeting, 142nd Fighter Wing Command Chief Master Sgt. Christopher Roper thanked Burleton for the presentation and engaging the Airmen in attendance.

"There are going to be several modifications this next year but by beginning the conversation and addressing the policy changes like we did today, I really see us all moving forward in a positive direction."