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Transgender Inclusion in the American Military

Americans have various reasons for joining the military - some are more personal such as patriotism and family history. Others are drawn to it to access college education and job opportunities.


However, not all Americans support the military. The library of congress reported that opponents of war and militarism have ethical concerns with the parties that profit off of the military industrial complex. The LOC states, “Peace activists, pacifists, and others dreaded the inevitable loss of lives and drain on the economy that going to war would bring.” 


The military has also struggled to recruit in recent years. In 2023 the US Department of Defense reported the military fell short of its recruiting goals. 


The military continues to be the largest section of America’s budget and has thus served (and continues to serve) as a gateway of opportunity for many people, guaranteeing a college degree and job security. However, these opportunities have not always been equally available to all groups of people, which is why it’s been a key focal point for activists. 


History of LGBTQ+ discrimination within the American military dates back to the 1940s when LGBTQ+ identities were classified as mental illnesses. However, many activists and organizations fought for inclusion. In 1993, President Bill Clinton signed the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT)” act which would allow gender and sexual minorities to serve, but would discharge them if they came out or were outed. In 2011, President Obama signed the DADT Repeal Act, a huge step towards advancing LGBTQ+ equality within the military. 


However, in recent history, America has gone backwards in this progress. Then-President Donald J. Trump, a member of the Republican Party, made an announcement in 2017 stating his intent to ban transgender individuals from serving in the military as an effort to save on medical costs, with the legislation going into effect in 2019. 


Current President Joe Biden, a member of the Democratic party, signed an executive order in 2021 to advance the rights of transgender military personnel, protecting them from discharges based on any issues related to gender identity. 


However, transgender people still face difficulties in this aspect. I interviewed Lillie, a trans woman currently enlisted to serve in the military, but had to pause her transition. “I’m going to be serving in the navy, but I have to be off of [hormone replacement therapy] - HRT, to do so. That’s what the current policy is and policies are policies,” states Lillie. 


Lillie explained that she has access to gender affirming care such as hair removal, but medical procedures such as bottom surgery and top surgery are out of reach at the moment based on her priorities of wanting to serve. 


Because of this policy, many trans people with a willingness to serve have to make hard decisions about what to do regarding their transition and gender presentation. “I made the decision that was right for me and that’s working out so far,” continues Lillie. 


Lillie went to high school during Trump’s Administration, and recounts her experiences with her life goals and gender identity. She states, “I wanted to join the air force in high school, but It didn’t work out. It didn’t help that I was with my dad when I went to the recruiter - I wasn’t out yet.”


The political climate greatly affects decisions and outcomes in these types of scenarios. Lillie notes that her hometown is very Republican. She states, “I grew up in a small conservative Christian town in northern California - even though California is known to be quite liberal, I lived in quite a ‘red’ city. I feel like the church at large is getting more inclusive.” 


The Navy currently states its value of diversity on its website: “The United States Navy values diversity and recognizes that through inclusion we are a better military and stronger nation for it.”


Lillie has now moved away from her hometown and remains firm in her decision to serve in the navy, and plans to resume her transition and get gender affirming care when she is able to. “The current policies are quite exclusionary but policies are policies. And they’re getting a lot more inclusive than they used to be,” she notes.  


A 2022 study by Shannon L. Dunlap and her associates did a survey of active duty military personnel. Dunlap reports, “Transgender military service was widely supported among active-duty heterosexual and LGB cisgender military personnel, indicating that from the perspective of service members themselves, the ban should be lifted.” 


I told Lillie that I hope she finds the chosen family and community she deserves - people who love and accept her for who she is. Her response was “I already have. And that’s who I’m willing to die for.”

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