Last year, the Pentagon lifted its long-standing ban on transgender men and women serving openly in the military. At the time, Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter explained: “Our mission is to defend this country, and we don’t want barriers unrelated to a person’s qualification to serve preventing us from recruiting. … We have to have access to 100 percent of America’s population for our all-volunteer force to be able to recruit from among them the most highly qualified.”
That plan, studied extensively, was meant to be fully implemented by July 1.
This morning, President Trump reversed that policy.
But would allowing transgender people to serve openly in the military create “disruption”?
There's no evidence that that's true.
Eighteen countries allow transgender personnel to serve openly in the military, including Australia, Israel, Britain, Sweden and Canada. None of these countries reported experiencing ill effects from opening up their armed services to the transgender community. “They all said the same thing, which is that inclusive policy has not in any way compromised military readiness. And that’s really important,” Palm Center director Aaron Belkin said at a conference last year. The Palm Center put out an extensive report on this issue in 2015.
In fact, the U.S. military studied how other countries tackled the change before drawing up its recommendations. A report by Rand Corp. which the Pentagon cited in its decision to lift the ban, looked closely at four countries: Israel, Britain, Canada and Australia. Researchers found that “while there is limited research on the effects of transgender personnel serving openly in foreign militaries, the available evidence indicated no significant effect on cohesion, operational effectiveness, or readiness.”
In fact, they said that when they talked to British officers, some “reported that increases in diversity had led to increases in readiness and performance. Interviews with these same commanders also found no effect on cohesion, though there were some reports of resistance to the policy change within the general military population, which led to a less-than-welcoming environment for transgender personnel.”
Of course, the specifics of integration look different depending on the country. In most places, transgender troops must undergo hormone therapy or surgery before they can serve. In Argentina, transgender service members aren't required to undergo surgery or receive an expert opinion before officially changing their gender.
The armed services in the Netherlands, Canada and Australia will pay for hormonal and surgical treatments, but only after the service member receives approval from a doctor.
In Britain, individuals must live as their target gender for two years before they are granted legal recognition. In Israel, where military service is mandatory, there are special programs to support transgender recruits.
Different countries offer different accommodations for service members who transition once they are already in the military. In Britain, they're offered a new uniform at the start of the transition process, along with new photos and ID cards bearing their new names. A guide produced by the Royal Australian Air Force (deemed the “gold standard” by experts) advises commanders to “use common sense.” When it comes to questions about housing and bathrooms, it suggests relatively intuitive solutions such as using shower curtains and ensuring individual stalls are available when necessary.
Transgender people are not barred from specific jobs in any of the services where they can serve openly, though they are often required to pass fitness tests for the gender they have transitioned to.