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Military focuses on transgender service equality


Transgender issues are at the forefront of America’s collective mind. Shows like Becoming Us on ABC Family, and I am Cait on E!, and Netflix’s original series Orange is the New Black and Sense 8, are bringing these stories and issues into homes that may have never been exposed to a trans person. While some are concerned about being too light-hearted, the shows are aimed at cisgender (non transgender) heterosexual people, and their entertainment. But even the entertainment is riddled with issues that trans people face.T

It’s not only on TV that the nation is taking note of trans issues. When Olympic gold medalist and icon Bruce Jenner transitioned into Caitlyn, he broke barriers and pushed this issue into the light.

The nation is noticing, and it’s having an impact at the military level.
On July 13, Defense Secretary Ash Carter made the announcement that over the next six months, top military officials will hammer out details of a new policy to allow active-duty troops to transition from one gender to another. This raised a whole slew of questions that remain unanswered.

“The Defense Department’s current regulations regarding transgender service members are outdated and are causing uncertainty that distracts commanders from our core missions,” Carter said in his statement. He continued with, “moreover, we have transgender soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines – real, patriotic Americans – who I know are being hurt by an outdated, confusing, inconsistent approach that’s contrary to our value of service and individual merit.”

But what does this mean? The statement raised a whole slew of questions that remain unanswered. On the social side, it comes with relief. No one will have to hide a part of their life in a duffle bag with three padlocks. But that is only one factor going into this six-month period where officials will have to make decisions on healthcare, combat jobs, and protection.

For example, will a soldier who was born female but now lives as a man be permitted to hold one of more than 200,000 armor, infantry, artillery and special operations positions that still prohibit women?

What will the Military Health System accommodate for trans people? Will it cover their hormones needed to transition, top and bottom surgery, or facial reconstructive surgery? Will there be protections put in place regarding harassment of these individuals?

These questions aren’t only on the weight of the individuals who are rewriting the policy, but on the shoulders of current transgender troops and advocates. For Brianna Matthews, a trans veteran and advocate, who credits her career success to her time in the Air Force, it’s an issue that everyone needs to pay close attention to.

“It’s going to be a very important six months, and even longer, for the military to really assess what needs to be done, and done right,” Matthews said. “It’s monumental, but if we are going to applaud them on the decision we need to make sure they are heading in the right direction.”

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