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US Army eases ban on transgender soldiers

  1. The US Army on Friday made it more difficult to discharge openly serving transgender soldiers.
  2. The change requires a top, senior 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."

The military prohibits trans soldiers from serving openly

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 change announced Friday, the assistant secretary of the Army for personnel will now make the discharge decisions — potentially making it more difficult to force out transgender soldiers.

"Today's action by the Army helps over 6,000 transgender soldiers serving in silence," Allyson Robinson, director of policy at SPARTA, an LGBT military organization, said in a statement. "It also helps their commanders, who are increasingly stymied trying to apply 1970s medical policy to today's Army."

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, which reportedly slowed the rate of that ban's enforcement.

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on transgender soldiers, as with other forms of discrimination against transgender people, is based on incorrect and outdated medical rationale.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. 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.