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Military’s transgender ban based on bad medical science, say medical scientists

President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Ash Carter at a meeting.
President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Ash Carter at a meeting.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
  1. The American Medical Association on Monday passed a resolution that said "there is no medically valid reason to exclude transgender individuals" from US military service.
  2. The resolution also calls for the military to provide trans service members, who identify with a gender different from the one assigned to them at birth, with the same standard of medical care applied to non-trans personnel.
  3. The military currently prohibits trans troops from serving openly — although the Air Force and Army have eased their bans — and doesn't typically provide trans-inclusive health coverage, such as hormone therapy.

The military prevents trans people from serving openly

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

The ban on trans service members, as with other forms of discrimination against trans people, is based on incorrect and outdated medical rationale. The concern is that a person's gender dysphoria, a state of emotional distress caused by how the gender someone was designated at birth conflicts with their gender identity, could interfere with someone's ability to serve, since it can lead to severe depression and anxiety.

But most medical experts today, including the American Psychiatric Association, agree that hormone therapy and other forms of care can treat those suffering from gender dysphoria. And not all trans people suffer from severe gender dysphoria in the first place.

Still, the military doesn't currently provide trans-inclusive health coverage. The Palm Center's report concluded that this failure stands in stark contrast to the medical support the military provides to soldiers with other medical and psychological conditions.

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

In the meantime, some branches of the military have taken their own actions. Last week, the Air Force elevated the decision to discharge a trans service members from low-level commanders to the director of the Air Force Review Boards Agency, and said that someone's gender dysphoria will need to interfere "with duty requirements — including potential deployment — or duty performance" to justify dismissal. Earlier this year, the Army elevated discharge decisions to a top senior official as well.

Watch: Life as a transgender woman