June 13, 2019

On Friday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals set aside a ruling by U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman which had said the ban on transgender military service likely violated the constitutional rights of transgender service members and recruits. Hearing the ruling, I was immediately brought back to the final days of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

One of the proudest days of my life was December 22, 2010, when I attended the signing into law of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell by President Obama in Washington, D.C. I was privileged to represent PFLAG National, both as a member of the Board of Directors, and as a retired U.S. Air Force officer.

I believed that the repeal was the first step toward full equality for LGBTQ+ individuals to serve openly in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard. This was important to me as a proud veteran, but also because my extended family includes lesbian, bisexual and transgender members.

My optimism proved well founded when Department of Defense regulations banning transgender persons from US military service were repealed on June 30, 2016. Beginning on that date, otherwise qualified United States service members could not be discharged, denied reenlistment, involuntarily separated, or denied continuation of service because of being transgender.

Imagine my dismay when on April 12,2019, the ban on transgender service was reinstated by the current administration.

According to research from the Williams Institute, there are an estimated 15,500 transgender adults serving in the U.S. military, including 8,800 on active duty and 6,700 in the National Guard or Reserves. They serve in a wide variety of roles, including infantry officers, drill instructors, intelligence specialists, and Arabic linguists. They serve stateside, overseas, and in combat zones.

This is what the ban does:

  • Service members who appear transgender or act transgender by failing to meet grooming, uniform, and other military standards for their birth sex are prohibited.
  • People are banned from enlisting in the armed forces if they have transitioned from their “biological sex” to another gender.
  • Military members cannot transition and remain on duty.
  • Federal funds cannot be used for military personnel’s transgender transition medical procedures, including psychological counseling.

While individuals in the military who came out as transgender between 2016 and today may remain in the forces under a grandfather clause, how can they possibly feel welcome or their service appreciated?

There are also less well-publicized consequences of the ban. Two specifically affect young people who want to serve their country. First, the military service academies—West Point, the Naval Academy, the Air Force Academy and the Coast Guard Academy—have begun announcing their enforcement of the ban. Second, transgender college students in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps are learning that not only will they not be able to serve following graduation, but they are losing their ROTC scholarships. Many were counting on this financial aid from the Department of Defense to be able to attend college.

The ban is widely unpopular. Not only do PFLAG National and it’s nationwide Chapter Network, and the other national LGBTQ+ organizations oppose it, but all of the mainstream medical and psychological associations, based on their research, strongly favor allowing transgender individuals to serve in the military. This includes the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Counseling Association, and the National Association of Social Workers, as well as two former Surgeons General.

But the strongest argument against the ban is public opinion. American citizens know when something is grossly unfair. According to a Quinnipiac University National Poll, 70% of American voters say that qualified transgender people should be allowed to serve in the military.

What can we do? As parents, family members, and allies of transgender individuals, we must speak out. We know the importance of sharing stories. There are people in our families, our workplaces, our schools, our churches, and our communities who do not understand why this issue is important. We must tell them. And it is especially important that we also tell our elected officials. They may some day have an opportunity to right this wrong, and we must make sure they know why they should.

Join me in spreading the word.

Colonel Daniel Tepfer, USAF (ret.)

To learn more about Col. Tepfer and his work with PFLAG, visit https://www.asaging.org/blog/straight-ally