Defense

LGBT inclusion holds all US military to same high standard

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In the wake of Donald Trump’s election, social conservatives have dragged out discredited arguments to target lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans who ably serve their country in uniform.

In these pages, Peter Sprigg recently suggested that the U.S. military must be rebuilt not because it has been overextended by more than a decade of international conflict but because it now allows LGBT Americans to serve openly.

Yet Sprigg, a fellow at the Family Research Council, which has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, apparently willfully misunderstands both the new inclusive policy and the nature of transgender health:

We now know that past policies on LGBT military service were based on a flimsy set of assumptions which turned out to be both unfounded and detrimental to readiness.

{mosads}Both “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the transgender service ban were based on the belief that allowing LGBT military members to serve while acknowledging their identities would create unmanageable burdens — both social and medical — for comrades, commanders and senior leadership.

 

But these policies were written at a time when few understood what it meant to be LGBT and when the public often reacted to that ignorance with bewilderment.

In recent decades, mountains of research has been conducted and consistently concluded that open LGBT service does not create the problems many thought it would. Such inclusion actually strengthens the military by reaffirming principles of merit-based service and uniform rules for all members.

This research comes not only from academic and other independent organizations but from the government and from the military itself.

The overwhelming conclusion, as summarized by the RAND Corporation, which the Pentagon engaged to study LGBT military service three separate times over the past 25 years, is that open service has “little or no impact on unit cohesion, operational effectiveness, or readiness” but has “benefits for all service members by creating a more inclusive and diverse force.”

Sprigg claims that transgender individuals have “unique medical problems” that make them “ill-suited for military service” and that since the military “regularly discharges service members who are not medically deployable,” it’s only fair to “hold individuals who identify as transgender to the same standard.”

But that’s exactly what the new policy of inclusion does. Instead of making needlessly broad generalizations about those who might (or might not) become undeployable, it holds all military members to a single standard, addressing undeployability if and when it comes.

Rather than applying one set of rules to one group and a different set to everyone else, all individuals are now measured by their ability to do the job.

Contrary to Sprigg’s claims, the data show, transgender troops as a group present no greater healthcare needs or risk of lost duty time than anyone else.

RAND projects that a minuscule 10 to 130 service members will have reduced deployability each year as a result of gender transition-related medical care. That’s compared to over 100,000 nondeployable soldiers just in the Army last year.

Singling out transgender troops for automatic exclusion — while welcoming tens of thousands of other individuals with similar or greater medical risks — smacks not of sensible policy but of prejudice pure and simple.

What the military needs is to draw on the widest possible pool of talent in the country.

That’s why senior military leaders like Gen. Mark Milley, the Army Chief of Staff, welcomed an openly gay Army Secretary this year by saying that a modern fighting force “takes advantage of all the talents that all Americans have to offer … regardless of their gender, regardless of their identity, or their sexual preference.”

Aaron Belkin is the director of the Palm Center, a San Francisco-based independent research institute devoted to sponsoring scholarship on controversial public policy issues. Its research on sexual minorities in the military has been published in leading social scientific journals.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

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