With the Defense Department’s recent decision to begin a process that would lift its ban on open service for transgender troops, important progress is coming to modernize our military. 

It is an announcement certain to figure prominently among traditionally anti-LGBT politicians in Congress and those seeking the 2016 presidential nomination. Despite medical evidence to the contrary, many politicians and transphobes consider transgender people “sick.” 


At one point, society and a sizable segment of the medical community thought gays and lesbians “sick,” as in mentally ill. Similarly, society once held the same view that the physically disabled were “sick,” based on armchair psychology that any person with a disability must also be mentally ill. Popular culture images long fed both these offensive and now outdated views.  

Today’s view is that those who claim others, like the transgendered, are “sick” are themselves “sick” with, to put it mildly, bias against the trans community, and to put it more accurately and bluntly, hate. 

That the Defense Department’s announcement to fully sexually modernize all branches of the military comes as public opinion for the transgender community is favorably influenced by Caitlyn Jenner’s graceful and passionate public transitioning is no coincidence. Society has finally accepted transgendered people despite screeches from politicians clinging to a bygone era of sexual shame and discrimination.     

In typical bureaucratic fashion, the Defense Department announced “creation of a working group” that will, over six months, “study the implications of lifting the ban.” In truth, the department has been studying the issue for years and hopefully six months will not morph into six years of inaction on justice.  

The most fundamental implication of lifting the military’s transgender exclusion is that it fulfills the promise of our nation’s Founders that all are equal in our country and those who wish to wear the uniform -- men, women and transgendered -- to serve America’s cause are welcome to do so. 

According to a Defense Department statement, the working group will commence its work “with the presumption transgender persons can serve openly without adverse impact on military effectiveness and readiness, unless and except where objective, practical impediments are identified.”   This could translate to a limited lifting of the transgender ban. 

Why a “limited lifting”? Why partial equality? Answers to these questions will be as perverse as the questions themselves. “[E]xcept where objective, practical impediments are identified” should have ended with “if any.” Since it did not, this could further signal a go slow on justice for transgendered troops.  

One part of the Defense announcement that was completely accurate dealt with further sexual modernization of the military. "The Defense Department's current regulations regarding transgender service members are outdated and are causing uncertainty that distracts commanders from our core missions," Defense secretary Ash Carter said.  

The long fight for open military service for gays and lesbians should have always included open transgender service. It is a shame on the Defense Department and political leaders that transgender soldiers have been treated as an undesirable class based on “sick” stereotypes for so long.

The U.S. military should celebrate openness, honesty, equality and dignity for all troops. The outdated and fully unnecessary ban on open transgender military service should end in 2015. Congress should insist on quick action.

Patterson, a former diplomat, is a writer and speaker based in San Francisco, blogging at www.HumanRightsIssues.com