The diversity of our military service members is a source of national strength. Our all-volunteer force, composed of highly qualified individuals of diverse backgrounds, is unmatched globally. The military remains the most trusted institution in the United States, in part because of the strong ties between our armed forces and communities across our country. Recent administrations, working together with Congress, have made significant strides in creating an inclusive military that welcomes all Americans regardless of sexual orientation, gender, or religion.
In 2010, Congress passed the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act, allowing lesbian, gay, and bisexual members of the military to serve openly without fear of being discharged. In 2013, the military repealed Article 125 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which had criminalized intimacy between same-sex couples. In June 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which outlined benefits for military couples, was unconstitutional due its interpretation of marriage, prompting Defense Department to extend military benefits to same-sex couples.
Women serving in the military have also successfully advocated for equal rights and opportunities, recognizing that the full integration of women makes our armed services stronger. In January 2013, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced that the military would lift the ban on women serving in combat roles. In December 2015, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced that all combat roles would be open to women. Following this decision, more than 600 women in the army were recruited to combat occupations by 2018. Roughly 16.2% of the 1.3 million active-duty service members are women. But women service members continue to face sexual harassment and assault by their peers and retaliation when they report claims up the chain of command.
In June 2016, Secretary Carter announced that transgender recruits could serve openly, a policy that has proven successful. Transgender individuals volunteer to serve in our military at more than twice the rates of other Americans. Total healthcare costs for transgender troops are estimated to be $2.4 to 8.4 million while total direct medical care costs for the DOD amount to nearly $17 billion. According to a 2016 RAND report, these changes have had “no significant effect on unit cohesion, operational effectiveness, or readiness.”
Finally, in January 2017, the U.S. Army announced that accommodations could be made for service members who wear beards, turbans, or hijabs for religious reasons.
In July 2017, President Trump issued a series of tweets banning transgender individuals from serving “in any capacity.” The ban was met with widespread social pushback and was twice-blocked by federal judges, first in October and then November of 2017. Then, in December, a federal judge denied a request by the Trump administration to delay the acceptance of transgender military recruits beyond a January 1 deadline. In January, 2018 the military reported that eight transgender applicants had begun the process for entry into the Air Force.
The assault on the rights of transgender troops continued in March 2018 when President Trump approved a policy recommendation which would again restrict military service members according to their designated gender at birth. But a federal judge blocked implementation of the policy, ruling that the ban was similar to those previous and that a corresponding lawsuit must be tried in court. In January 2019, the Supreme Court, in a 5 vote majority, allowed the Trump administration to temporarily enact the transgender military ban while the cases challenging the ban continued through the lower courts.
Other challenges remain for many troops serving their country. Recent press reports have highlighted significant problems in programs recruiting immigrants with special skills into the armed forces.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
We’re asking Congress to ensure that all individuals who meet required standards are allowed to serve in the U.S. military openly and safely. Call your members of congress at (202) 224-3121 and ask them to oppose the administration’s discriminatory ban against openly transgender service members. Be sure to mention:
Department of Defense changed its policy to allow transgender members of the armed forces to serve openly after a two-year review that showed there was no valid reason to exclude qualified personnel from military service because they were transgender.
Transgender service members are held to the exact same rigorous standards as every other service member.
Leading national security and military officials, including Former Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, oppose the transgender ban and say allowing transgender service members to serve openly has not hurt unit cohesion or military readiness.
6 Facts About the U.S. Military and Its Changing Demographics – Pew Research Center
How U.S. Military Policy on Transgender Personnel Changed Under Obama – The New York Times
What Women Bring to the Fight – Military Leadership Diversity Commission
The (Mostly) Good News on Women in Combat – Center for a New American Security