Clegg: The freedom to serve

BY CHRIS CLEGG | MARCH 11, 2015 5:00 AM

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When President Obama signed the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act in December 2010, he called it a victory for “… the principles of equality and fairness that define us as Americans.” When he gave his State of the Union Speech in January he told the nation, “That’s why we defend free speech and advocate for political prisoners … or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. We do these things not only because they’re right but because they make us safer.”

And when reporters asked White House Press Secretory Josh Earnest about the new service proposal that would lift the ban on transgender troops, Earnest declared, “I can tell you that the president agrees with the sentiment that all Americans who are qualified to serve should be able to serve, and for that reason, we here at the White House welcome the comments from the secretary of Defense.”

Those comments, from the newly appointed Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, were about his openness toward accepting transgender troops in the military. They came along with a USA Today report that cited a proposal floating around the Army tightening restrictions on the rank needed to initiate dismissal proceedings against such troops, another blow to the archaic notion that sexual identity or orientation should disqualify people from volunteering their service.

However, as important as any step towards gender equality is, we should concentrate more of our effort to abolish gender dysphoria as a qualification for dismissal, rather than simply cutting down the number of people qualified to carry out the outdated code.

Gender dysphoria, more commonly known as gender identity disorder, is a medical term defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a condition in which “… people whose gender at birth is contrary to the one they identify with.” The Pentagon, according to USA Today, classifies gender dysphoria as a psychological condition deeming one unfit for service, even though the American Psychological Association doesn’t include it on its list of psychological disorders.

In fact, according to the Psychological Association, individuals identifying as transgender “… do not experience their gender as distressing or disabling,” which “… implies that identifying as transgender does not constitute as a mental disorder.” So if being transgender does not equate with a lower mental capacity and gay and lesbian troops are allowed to serve openly in all branches of our military, the idea that you can bar transgender persons from joining our armed services solely based on what sex they identify with is absolute folly.

Not only does medical research and current federal law seem to be advocating for the allowance of transgender troops to serve, but the American public seems to be on board as well. In an ongoing MSNBC poll that currently has close to 2,000 votes, 66 percent of the votes cast believe that transgender rejection should have ended with the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. In addition to public support, former U.S. Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders spearheaded a study with the Palm Center that extensively supported the notion that”… there is no compelling medical rationale for banning transgender military service, and that eliminating the ban would advance a number of military interests, including enabling commanders to better care for their service members.”

Much as the disenfranchisement of African Americans diminished their role as active citizens, transgender individuals have been diminished by their being barred from the military. And if the specific branches of the military refuse to change their socially broken laws, then it is Obama’s job to work with Carter and the Defense Department to set a national precedent extinguishing this archaic law.

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