The landmark repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in 2011 allowed gays and lesbians to serve openly in the U.S. military. Now, transgender individuals on active duty and veterans who have served are fighting for the same right.
At a one-day conference in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 20, troops and veterans who switched sexes while on active duty or afterward said transgender people serving in uniform should not have to hide who they are.
The conference comes after two reports from independent commissions — organized by a think tank in San Francisco — have called for and an end to ban of transgenders in the military.
The Elders report said that because the American Psychiatric Association no longer classifies “gender non-conformity” as a disorder that the military should follow its lead.
Transgender military personnel from 18 countries attended the conference in what they say is the largest international conference of its kind and the first ever held in the US. Allied countries included serving personnel from Canada, England, Israel, New Zealand, and Australia. Speakers at the conference spoke on a variety of topics, all of which pointed to their assertion that openly serving transgenders pose no problems for military readiness or effectiveness.
Transgender former Navy SEAL Senior Chief Kristin Beck speaks at a conference in Washington on Oct. 20. Transgender military personnel from 18 countries who allow them to serve openly gathered to discuss whether the U.S. military could join them. (Nicholas Kamm / AFP via Getty Images)
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced three months ago that he is open to reviewing the ban, and the White House expressed support. However, since Hagel’s announcement, no progress has been made toward a resolution, and some observers have questioned whether the military could include transgender personnel without difficulty.
The five transgender U.S. service members who spoke at the D.C. conference — the first and largest international summit on the topic held in the U.S. — said they do not have anxiety or mental health disorders now that they have transitioned to the gender they should have been from birth.
“I’m still me no matter what I wear — I still have the capability to kick ass,” said retired Navy Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator Kristin Beck, who served 20 years in the military as Chris Beck, during which he deployed 13 times with Navy SEAL teams.
Beck proudly wears her Bronze Star, Purple Heart and Special Warfare insignia miniatures on her civilian blazer and is the most public face of transgender military service next to Army Pvt. Bradley Manning.
Soon after Beck came out as a woman, Manning announced after his sentencing on espionage charges that his name was Chelsea and he planned to live at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, as a woman. Manning filed suit to force the government to provide hormone replacement therapy.
Photos courtesy of Google.com