The Fight for Trans Rights in the Military

Chelsea Manning, the military whistleblower sentenced last week to 35 years  in prison for leaking classified military documents to WikiLeaks, came out as transgender the day after sentencing, announcing  that she is female and hopes to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. For  many in the trans* community, Manning’s announcement was not a  revelation but a confirmation of her identity. Though Manning’s story is an  exceptional one, as a soldier and a prisoner she stands at the intersection of  several discriminatory policies that affect thousands of trans* people  throughout the United States. In a statement released on August 22nd, the  American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) argued that denying Manning access to  hormone therapy – considered medically necessary care for the treatment of  gender dysphoria – could be a violation of her Eighth Amendment rights protecting her from cruel and unusual punishment. As trans* identity remains  unprotected in the military, however, thousands of trans* service members are,  in fact, denied the right to seek medical care and live as their true  selves.

“Trans* people are typically released from the military through medical  discharge,” says Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center.  “That means the trans* service members who are serving are doing so quietly.” A  study recently conducted by the LGBTQ Policy Journal at Harvard’s Kennedy School  for Government found that 20 percent of the trans* people surveyed had served in  the military – twice the rate of the rest of the population. The same study  found that trans* service members were even more likely than their civilian  counterparts to experience employment and housing discrimination and be denied  medical treatment. While the successful repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT)  means sexual orientation is now protected, gender identity is not. And although  gender dysphoria is considered a medical disqualification, discharges may be classified as “administrative,”  potentially limiting troops’ future access to VA healthcare.

One trans* service member, a second-year medical student with a full  scholarship from the U.S. Navy, feels that the DADT victory was incomplete. “I’m  literally the same exact person I was before, the same feelings, experiences,  abilities,” says Jai, who identifies as non-gendered and prefers gender-neutral  pronouns, and plans to begin taking testosterone in September. “The only thing  that has changed is the words that describe me, but now I’m deemed unfit for  service.”

Jai knows that beginning testosterone treatments will likely result in a  medical discharge and the loss of their scholarship, meaning they will need to  find another way to pay for medical school and may even need to repay the  military. It’s a risk Jai is willing to take. “My mental state is important to  me,” Jai says. “Living as a female is a source of daily anxiety and discomfort,  and it has contributed to my depression in the past.” Jai’s options are limited;  the idea of postponing testosterone treatments is devastating. Adds Jai, “I’m  transitioning because I want to be able to be able to see my reflection and say  that I look like me.”

As a medical student, Jai feels especially astounded by the discrimination  trans* people face when it comes to accessing necessary health care. “It’s  comparable to a person with type II diabetes or hypothyroidism not having their  medication covered,” Jai says. Jai, whose father was a career military  serviceman, saw the Navy as an opportunity to go to medical school and serve a  population that needed care. Now, they’re hoping to avoid being discharged until  figuring out another way to pay for school.

Jai hopes that Chelsea Manning’s coming out will raise awareness of the  number of trans* people serving in the military, and is eager to see whether the  military will provide Manning’s medical care. Manning’s attorney, David Coombs,  says he hopes that Fort Leavenworth will “do the right thing,” despite an  earlier statement from the prison’s spokesperson that “the Army does not provide  hormone therapy or sex-reassignment surgery.” Manning, already a deeply symbolic  figure in the battle over government transparency, now stands at the center of  another national conversation. Manning has requested respect, support and  medical care. How the military, the media and the American public honor that  request will affect not only her, but the struggle for trans* rights across the  country.

By  via RollingStone


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