Transgender Military Service

On June 30, 2016, the Pentagon lifted their ban on transgender people serving openly in the U.S. military, joining eighteen other nations, including the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and Israel, which allow transgender people to serve openly in their militaries. Immediately following the policy’s announcement, transgender people currently serving in the military were able to do so openly and were no longer able to be discharged simply because of their gender identity. In addition, transgender service members will be able to access all medically-necessary care and begin to officially change their gender in Pentagon personnel systems on October 1, 2016.

According to the Palm Center, there are approximately 15,500 actively serving transgender members of the U.S. military, making the Department of Defense (DoD) the largest employer of transgender people in America.  Like their lesbian, gay, and bisexual counterparts, transgender people were barred from serving openly in the United States military. However, unlike the statutory ban that prohibited lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members from serving openly (known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”), the ban on transgender military service was regulatory and only required action by the Secretary of Defense to update. 

Yet, despite these regulations, thousands of transgender people served with honor and distinction in our military, including the more than 134,000 transgender veterans who are alive today.  Transgender service members were risking their lives around the world—sometimes in combat zones—while unable to be their authentic selves or seek the medical care they needed.  This had important implications for our nation’s military readiness.  A service member who is able to be open and honest about their gender identity and receive appropriate care is more productive and more focused on their job.  In addition, the military was discharging highly trained and talented, transgender service members on the basis of regulations that were nearly forty years out of date instead of seeking to retain and recruit only the best.

After years of advocacy by HRC and other LGBTQ rights organizations, in July 2015, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced the establishment of a working group to study the “policy and readiness implications” of allowing transgender service members to serve openly. Before this announcement, HRC had been working with the DoD to end this unjust discrimination by educating key policy makers, as well as the public, on the negative impact of the transgender military service ban. Following the announcement, HRC continued to work alongside other LGBTQ rights organizations to ensure the Pentagon produced the best policy for open transgender military service.

However, under the new guidelines, openly transgender people will not be allowed to enlist in the military immediately. Enlistments will only be permitted after the entire force is trained on the new policy, which may take up to a year. In addition, the policy requires that transition-related medical care be completed and the prospective service member must be “stable” according to their doctor for a minimum 18 months. This policy will be reviewed within the next 24 months.

HRC has already called on the Pentagon to waste no time in reducing these unnecessarily long waiting periods.

In addition, while the end of the ban on open transgender military service is an important and monumental step forward, there is still more work to be done to care for transgender veterans and the transgender family members of active duty service members. That is why HRC, along with our coalition partners, is also committed to:

  • Working with the Department of Veterans Affairs to ensure transgender veterans receive respectful, culturally competent support and care that is compatible with accepted standards of medical and mental health practice. 
  • Ensuring that transgender veterans can update their official service record (Department of Defense form DD-214) to reflect their proper name and gender, allowing them to receive their hard-earned veterans’ benefits without fear of bias or discrimination.
  • Updating the discriminatory medical policy that prevents military spouses and dependents from receiving transition-related health care and working to lift the statutory ban on surgical transition care.

Last Updated: 7/29/16