clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

This Navy veteran was kicked out of the military for being transgender

Landon Wilson was serving in Afghanistan when he was called into the office of his commander, who had been considering the then-23-year-old for a promotion. But the commander wasn't giving Wilson good news — he was trying to uncover the gender identity of the soldier, who was designated female at birth but identifies as a man.

When the commander discovered that Wilson is transgender, he kicked him out of the Navy through an honorable discharge.

"My main concern was who was going to take my spot," Wilson told CBS News' Jon LaPook. "When you're in a place like that, you can't really afford to lose anybody."

Wilson's story is not unique. Although Congress lifted Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the ban on gay, lesbian, and bisexual soldiers, in 2011, outdated medical regulations continue to bar openly serving transgender soldiers.

The military prohibits trans soldiers from serving openly

Medical regulations allow commanders to dismiss transgender individuals from the military without a medical evaluation, regardless of the soldier's ability to serve, according to a March 2014 report from the Palm Center, an LGBT military organization. As a result, trans soldiers are forced to keep their gender identities secret if they want to remain in the military.

The ban on transgender soldiers, as with other forms of discrimination against trans people, is based on incorrect and outdated medical rationale. Many medical experts prior to the 1990s viewed trans 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 one was assigned at birth.

But the military prevents trans soldiers from accessing the care many — although not all — of them want and need, since doing so would reveal a person's gender identity and give grounds for a dismissal. So trans people are not only forced into secrecy if they want to remain in the military, but some also remain in a state of great emotional duress because they won't be able to treat their gender dysphoria.

The Obama administration could overturn the prohibition on trans soldiers without congressional consent, since the ban is attached to regulations, not federal law. The White House and Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said last month that they're open to undoing the ban, although it's unclear what, if any, reviews of the policy are underway.

Further reading: 11 myths about transgender people.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Vox Recommends

Get curated picks of the best Vox journalism to read, watch, and listen to every week, from our editors.