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Report: Army considers easing ban on transgender soldiers

  1. The US Army is considering making it more difficult to discharge openly serving transgender soldiers, USA Today reported.
  2. The change would require a top, senior civilian official to make discharge decisions, instead of leaving the choice to lower-level officers.
  3. Medical regulations allow the military to remove transgender soldiers once they're identified — somewhat similar to the now-eliminated ban on gay and lesbian soldiers, known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
  4. This month, the US military agreed to hormone therapy for Chelsea Manning, a transgender soldier in prison for leaking secret US documents, a first for the Army.

The military prohibits trans soldiers from serving openly

transgender soldiers map

The US military still allows the discharge of openly serving transgender soldiers. As a March 2014 report from the Palm Center explained, the ban allows commanders to dismiss transgender individuals from the military without a medical review, regardless of the soldier's ability to serve. As a result, transgender soldiers are forced to hide their true identities if they want to remain in the military.

Under the drafted change reported by USA Today on Monday, the assistant secretary of the Army for personnel would make the discharge decisions — potentially making it more difficult to force out transgender soldiers.

"This is a welcome step toward inclusive policy, but transgender troops must still serve in silence until more is done to dismantle the ban," Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, told USA Today.

Before the dismantlement of Don't Ask, Don't Tell in 2011, the military required the discharge of gay and lesbian soldiers to go through top Pentagon officials — effectively imposing a moratorium on the policy, according to USA Today.

The ban on transgender soldiers, as with other forms of discrimination against transgender people, is based on incorrect and outdated medical rationale. Many medical experts prior to the 1990s viewed transgender people as having an untreatable mental health condition. But most medical experts today, including the American Psychiatric Association, agree that hormone therapy and other forms of care can treat transgender people suffering from gender dysphoria, or significant distress caused by the gender assigned at birth.

The Obama administration could overturn the prohibition on trans soldiers without congressional consent, since the ban is attached to regulations, not law. Some administration officials, including former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, previously signaled the administration is open to reviewing the rules, and a Pentagon spokesperson told USA Today that a routine review of the policies is underway.

Further reading: 11 myths about transgender people.

Correction: USA Today corrected its story to note that the change is being considered, not already active as the newspaper originally reported. This story has been updated to reflect USA Today's correction.