There is a long history of transgender troops serving in the United States military. It is nearly impossible to tell what the numbers are when it comes to how many transgender people served since so many people served while hiding their identity.
A study done in 2014 by Jody Williams at the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law along with studies and work done by Veterans Affairs psychiatrist Dr. George Brown suggests that not only do the vast majority of transgender people who serve do so while keeping their identities secret, it appears that transgender Americans serve at a higher percentage than that of the general population.
The UCLA study shows that about 150,000 transgender people served in the military, which is approximately 21% of the adult transgender population. Compare that to about 10% of the overall population that has served in the military.
Part of the reason that the numbers are so difficult to nail down is that prior to 2016, transgender troops were not able to serve openly. The tide of acceptance started to turn in a positive direction after the 2010 repeal of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell laws allowing gay and lesbian troops to serve openly. The Pentagon began studying the possibility of allowing transgender troops to openly serve leading to the 2015 decision by then Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter to declare that the ban on transgender troops was outdated.
At the time, estimates put the number of transgender troops in all branches of the United States military at about 15,000. It wasn’t until a year later in 2016 that transgender troops were able to serve openly and were not able to be discharged solely for being transgender. That changed once again on July 26, 2017 when President Trump starting tweeting in the early hours of the morning and said, “[t]he United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.” This announcement was met with anger and was widely condemned by politicians of both major parties as well as more than 56 retired Generals and Admirals.
A month later, President Trump directed Secretary of Defense James Mattis to produce guidelines of how they were going to implement the new policies and also determine what will happen to those serving openly. The directive also ordered the halt of transition-related healthcare services which were being provided.
Soon after these directives, lawsuits were filed challenging the constitutionality of the new policies. Several federal courts issued injunctions preventing the implementation of the ban.
While it is encouraging that the courts are siding with the transgender troops for now, with the upcoming shift in the Supreme Court, the future of transgender troops is still in question. Polls from all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia shows that the majority of adults support transgender troops and their ability to serve openly. Transgender troops are not given any dispensation. They are required to uphold the same rigorous standards as any American soldier, sailor, airman, Marine, or coast guard. The 2016 policy just stated that transgender troops were not to singled out and discharged for being transgender. The current administration wants to reverse that and go back to the discriminatory policies that have been rejected previous in the United States as well as in countries and militaries around the world.
We will not sit idly by and watch silently as our rights are taken away from us. This directive is focused on transgender troops, but there are wider ramifications when governments start to single out groups and say that they are not worthy or capable. It is disgraceful when one group is said to be less patriotic because of who they are.