June 29, 2018

After Two Years of Open Transgender Service, Consensus From Military Leadership That Inclusive Policy Works

SAN FRANCISCO, CA– June 30 marks two years since the U.S. military officially began allowing transgender individuals to serve openly in its ranks. Those service members have compiled a record of distinction and earned consistent support from the highest ranks of the nation’s military leadership.

“While the culture wars are fought out on Donald Trump’s Twitter account, transgender service members have compiled a two-year record of achievement serving America on the front lines. They are proving every day what military leaders and medical professionals told us: that inclusive service strengthens the U.S. military and makes our country safer,” said Aaron Belkin, Director of the Palm Center.

The consensus in support of open service puts virtually the entire military chain of command at odds with the political leadership of the armed forces, as President Donald Trump and his Defense Secretary, James Mattis, have called for reinstituting a ban on transgender service members. Federal judges have repeatedly blocked the ban from going into effect as the issue works its way through the courts.

Patriotic transgender men and women have been serving openly with honor and distinction. Examples include:

Air Force Staff Sergeant Ashleigh Buch, whose commander, Lt. Col. David “Bo” Rice, said of her: “She means the world to this unit. She makes us better. And we would have done that [supported gender transition] for any airman but it made it really easy for one of your best.”

Air Force Staff Sergeant Brandon Rodriguez, who has deployed three times in his 11 years of service and currently works in ground transportation at Kirtland Air Force Base. Rodriguez said his commander has been “nothing but supportive.” His commander, Col. Richard Gibbs, said, “How we choose to define ourselves doesn’t really matter to me. It’s all about the people who choose to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. The rest of it is just treating each other well.”

Air Force Staff Sergeant Logan Ireland, who was awarded the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal, was named a Non-Commissioned Officer of the Quarter and is a Combat Leader Course graduate. Ireland deployed to Qatar and to Afghanistan to conduct counter-intelligence missions in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Marine Lance Corporal Aaron Wixson, whose commanding officer, Col. Walker Field, said that Wixson’s decision to forgo an athletic scholarship and enlist showed his “exceptional character and patriotism,” adding that: “We are lucky to have such talent in our ranks and will benefit from his retention … Enabling LCpl Wixson to openly serve as a transgender Marine necessarily increases readiness and broadens the overall talent of the organization.”

Navy Corpsman Petty Officer 3rd Class Akira Wyatt, a Filipino-American who immigrated to the U.S. as a child and later enlisted in the Navy. Wyatt was assigned to the 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton, deploying to Okinawa, Japan as part of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Deployment, where she provided medical education, training, and support to sailors and marines.

Army Captain Jennifer Peace, who deployed to Iraq and to Afghanistan as a military intelligence officer with the 4th Infantry Division. She was named the Distinguished Honor Graduate of the Intelligence Career Course and became the primary staff intelligence officer in her Infantry battalion during the “Pathway to the Pacific” mission to Asia, where she was rated #1 out of 11 intelligence officers.

Top military and medical leaders have issued clear support for open service, finding that inclusive policy has been a success and is not harming unit cohesion or readiness. These voices include:

Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who told the Senate Armed Services Committee, “I believe any individual who meets the physical and mental standards, and is worldwide deployable and is currently serving, should be afforded the opportunity to continue to serve.” Gen. Dunford said that he had consistently advised the president and the military that service members should not be removed on the basis of their gender identity. Gen. Dunford’s two immediate predecessors have also endorsed inclusive policy. Admiral Mike Mullen advised the Congress to “respect the military’s judgment and not to breach the faith of service members who defend our freedoms” by discharging them after they had been told they could openly serve. General Martin Dempsey said of transgender troops that “the service of men and women who volunteer and who meet our standards of service is a blessing, not a burden.”

All five military chiefs of staff, with Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley saying in April 2018: “I have received precisely zero reports of issues of cohesion, discipline, morale and all those sorts of things.”

The military’s highest ranking enlisted personnel, who have expressed support for inclusive service. The Navy’s top enlisted sailor, Master Chief Petty Officer Steven Giordano, said of transgender sailors, “We are honored and blessed to have you on our team, and you will continue to have my support.” His Army counterpart, Sergeant Major of the Army Daniel Dailey, reiterated the supportive conclusion of his boss, Gen. Mark Milley, that inclusive service caused no problems saying, “I agree with the chief. We haven’t heard any issues or concerns, and I personally have not had any issues or concerns.” And the Air Force’s top enlisted leader, Chief Master Sergeant Kaleth Wright, answered a question about transgender service members by vowing to treat them equally, saying, “We take care of them just like any other airmen.”

Fifty-six retired generals and admirals, who last year affirmed their support for transgender service, stating that a ban would cause “significant disruptions” to readiness, “deprive the military of mission-critical talent” and “compromise the integrity of transgender troops who would be forced to live a lie, as well as non-transgender peers who would be forced to choose between reporting their comrades or disobeying policy.”

A group of three retired military Surgeons General and three Palm Center scholars, who issued a report in April thoroughly debunking the Pentagon’s rationale for banning transgender military service. The panel found that the Pentagon had made “a series of erroneous assertions and mischaracterizations about the scientific research” on the health and fitness of transgender people. The report found the military had “no evidence” that allowing transgender service has compromised unit cohesion, and that the Pentagon’s case for reinstating the transgender ban “is contradicted by ample evidence clearly demonstrating that transition-related care is effective, that transgender personnel diagnosed with gender dysphoria are deployable and medically fit, that inclusive policy has not compromised cohesion and instead promotes readiness, and that the financial costs of inclusion are not high.”

Six former U.S. Surgeons General, who signed a statement disputing Pentagon claims about the medical fitness of transgender troops and issuing their support for open transgender service. The group stated that, in their judgment, the Pentagon’s report on transgender military service “mischaracterized the robust body of peer-reviewed research on the effectiveness of transgender medical care” and that there is actually “a global medical consensus that such care is reliable, safe, and effective” and that “transgender troops are as medically fit as their non-transgender peers.”

The American Medical Association, the nation’s largest group of physicians and medical students, which stated in April that “there is no medically valid reason to exclude transgender individuals from military service” and that the Trump administration had “mischaracterized and rejected the wide body of peer-reviewed research on the effectiveness of transgender medical care” in an effort to rationalize a ban on transgender troops. The rationale for the transgender ban has now been repudiated by the American Medical AssociationAmerican Psychological Association, and the American Psychiatric Association.