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Don't Ask, Don't Tell excludes transgender students

BY CHASTITY DILLARD | OCTOBER 04, 2011 7:20 AM

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UI senior Veronica Hamly knew for a long time she was transgender, but fear prevented her from publicly sharing her identity.

In January, she told loved ones, releasing years of stress.

"For a long time, I got a weekly massage because my back was always tight," she said. "But when I came out, that tightness vanished."

Though Hamly has never served in the military, those like her who do are unable to release their stress and serve openly because of remaining discriminatory laws.

And though last month's ending of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy may have been a win for lesbian, gay, and bisexual rights, some feel it has left America's transgender population in limbo.

"As the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell makes open service possible for gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members, transgender people are still unable to serve openly," said the National Center for Transgender Equality and the Service members Legal Defense Network in a joint statement on Sept. 14.

According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, military rules and regulations negatively affect the transgender population, which is close to 1 million, according to a recent estimate by the center.

Individuals of the military face discharge if deemed medically unfit and diagnosed with gender-identity disorder and/or genital surgery. Military members can also be court-martialed for cross-dressing.

And because all military service members are required to report all changes in medical status — including use of hormones or plans for surgery — transgender members face incrimination.

But plastic and reconstructive surgeon Sherman Leis said that declaring transgender people as medically unfit to serve in the armed forces based on the transition process is "ridiculous."

"They would have the same problems [non-transgender people] would have," said Leis, who has specialized in gender-reassignment surgery for six years.

But evidence shows transgender people are still finding ways to serve.

While conducting a survey of 6,450 transgender and non-gender-conforming individuals, Harper Jean Tobin of the National Center for Transgender Equality Policy Council said the center found one in five had previously served in the U.S. military.

Hamly said transgender people don't receive the same amount of protection that sexual orientation gets.

"I think in national politics, it's the issue of gay marriage, gay adoption, and gays in the military [in the media]," the recreation management major said. "Transgender issues don't get as much media."

But Amanda Irish, the president of the UI Veterans Association, said this issue has much to do with the military's protocol of eccentricity and uniformity.

"Everything is regulated, because they don't want you to be a distraction," the 27-year-old said. "They want you to complete the primary mission."

From Irish's perspective, distractions are hard to work around because the military is goal-driven, and she has trouble seeing how the military would adapt to allowing a transgender lifestyle.

However, Irish said, she isn't against transgender people.

"There isn't a lot of fluff in the military," she said. "It's very straightforward, very strict. They're not just discriminating against transgender [people], they're discriminating against personality."

But Tobin disagreed, citing countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia, which have or are in the process of accommodating transgender military members.

"They are natural kinds of fears to have, but the facts don't bear it out," Tobin said. "[It] was a big process politically to end Don't Ask, Don't Tell, but at the end of the day, it's implementing it. It's not that complicated, and it's true for transgender people."


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