Even though Don’t ask, Don’t tell was repealed in 2011 by President Obama, the ban on transgender troops has been upheld – until now. In a historic move to equalize the Pentagon, the ban on transgender people in the military is set to be lifted on July 1, 2016.
Transgender troops will now be free to openly serve in the military. Currently, there’s an estimated 15,500 trans people serving in secrecy. While the ban will be lifted in early July, it’s expected to take a year or possibly more to fully integrate the lift into the military.
This development comes at the heels of many progressive changes at the Pentagon. Just last year, women were finally permitted to serve in every position of the military, including all combat positions, which they were previously barred from.
The acceptance of women into all levels of the military and the lift on the ban of transgender people are monumental changes to our military. However, the protection of our citizens against discrimination, especially in relation to transgender people, is not nation-wide.
North Carolina recently made headlines when Governor Pat McCrory signed a bill restricting transgender people from using the bathroom of their choosing. This law is discriminatory, and nothing more than an infringement on the rights of citizens. While the Department of Justice had warned North Carolina of the law’s disregard for equal rights and filed a civil rights lawsuit against the state, action will be a long time from now.
The “bathroom debate” doesn’t end in one southern state; this is becoming a nationwide conversation. Target’s statement that it will allow transgender people to use the bathroom they choose recently sparked a boycott of the chain. At its core, the bathroom debate is simply dehumanizing. I wonder how those who oppose free bathroom rights would feel if there was a national controversy over their choice of bathroom. But they will never know what that feels like.
What concerns me most, however, is the treatment that transgender people will receive in the military when they are openly allowed to serve. I worry that there will be a “bathroom debate” here. I worry transgender people will be discriminated against, rather than protected, even as they proudly and courageously protect our country.
Similarly, I worry about hate crimes and sexual assault. Currently, transgender people are one of the most victimized groups in the U.S. One in two transgender people are sexually abused and assaulted at some point in their lives, according to the Office for Victims of Crime—that is half of trans people. Other studies show those numbers could be as high as 66%.
While members of the LGBT community are the most likely to experience hate crimes, they are rarely convicted as such. Although the conviction process in the military is much different from the states’, I am skeptical that much will be different. The military has, for years, been less than proactive in the prosecuting officers who commit sexual violence. Sexual assault and rape are significantly more common in the military: 50% higher for women and over 100% higher for men.
I worry about the safety of those who will now be legally protected to be openly transgender in the military—but only barely. A greater level of protection, enforcement, and support must be given to transgender people and women in the military against these acts of violence before policymakers expect them to protect the country.
The integration and full acceptance of transgender people into the military will be a difficult one, but extremely necessary. Transgender people deserve equal rights and must be protected against violence and hate in all forms.