Department of Defense Takes Important Step to End Trans Military Ban

Yesterday, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced that the Department of Defense “will create a working group to study over the next six months the policy and readiness implications of welcoming transgender persons to serve openly.” This working group, Secretary Carter shared, will operate under the assumption that trans people can service openly without an adverse impact on military readiness and effectiveness. In addition, Secretary Carter announced that Under Secretary of the Army Brad Carson will be making all decisions relating to administrative discharges for service members who identify as trans or are diagnosed with gender dysphoria.

Secretary Carter’s statement follows growing momentum for lifting the ban on trans military service. Last month, the Air Force announced policy changes that would make it more difficult to discharge transgender troops, a policy change that had already been enacted by the Army in March. In addition, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) sent a “Dear Colleague” letter last month aimed at garnering support for legislation she is drafting to lift the military’s ban.

The Reform Movement has long advocated for full equality for LGBT people, further reinforced by a resolution on the rights of transgender and gender non-conforming people that was passed by the Central Conference of American Rabbis earlier this year. In the resolution, the CCAR specifically called “on the U.S. and Canadian governments at all levels to review and revise all laws and policies, such as the U.S. ban on transgender individuals serving in the military, to ensure full equality and protections for people of all gender identities and expressions.”

The move to lift the trans military ban will have a significant impact; according to the Williams Institute, over 15,000 trans personnel service in the military. Yet, while this working group will hopefully lead to an end to discrimination against trans people in the military, these service members are likely to face high levels of discrimination when they return home. Currently, there is no federal law that explicitly prohibits discrimination based on gender identity in areas such as employment, public accommodations and housing. This means that these same trans service members who put their lives on the line defending our country may very well be denied employment opportunities and a place to leave when they return to the U.S. Under current law, there is no statute that expressly prohibits a restaurant or a store from kicking a trans person out of their establishment because of their gender identity. And these lack of explicit protections have an impact; according to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, transgender people face high rates of discrimination in many facets of their lives.

Representative David Cicilline (D-RI) and Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) have both announced that they will jointly be introducing legislation to address this issue. Their new legislation will provide for explicit comprehensive non-discrimination protections for LGBT people. Both the Center for American Progress and the Human Rights Campaign have released reports (available here and here respectively) on the need for federal non-discrimination protections. In addition, the RAC’s LGBT webpage includes information on the Jewish values that inform our Movement’s support for LGBT equality.

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Jordan Dashow

About Jordan Dashow

Jordan Dashow is a 2014-2015 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the RAC. He graduated in 2014 from Tufts University and is originally from Plainview, NY where he is a member of Manetto Hill Jewish Center.

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