Military To Allow Transgender Recruits
LAUREN FRAYER, HOST:
As of tomorrow January 1, the military will start enlisting transgender troops. It's the last remaining vestige of an Obama-era effort to fully integrate transgender people into the armed forces, which the Trump administration continues to oppose. Military recruiters in offices around the country are the first point of contact for the new recruits. And the Defense Department has issued new guidelines for how to treat potential enlistees with dignity and respect. Aaron Belkin is the executive director of the Palm Center, which advocates for transgender people. He says medical examiners will evaluate applicants with gender dysphoria the same way as everybody else.
AARON BELKIN: Every applicant for military service has to confirm both that they are fit for duty and that they meet the medical standards of stability, but also if there's any question, then they have to verify their medical history through records. And so if during an examination there was a question about someone's heart, the medical examiners would have the authority to ask for previous medical records if the candidate has ever seen another doctor for a heart exam for example.
FRAYER: How does the military understand gender dysphoria? Does it treat it as a medical condition? How does the military approach it under these new guidelines?
BELKIN: The military treats gender dysphoria as a medical condition according to the same standards that it applies to every other medical condition. And the basic story is this - the military has a very long medical document. It's more than 80 pages long.
BELKIN: And it lists pretty much any medical condition you can think of. And it provides medical examiners with tools for figuring out, when a candidate has a medical condition, is that condition going to be debilitating or is that condition going to be manageable during military service? And one of the things that that document does is it imposes waiting periods on certain medical conditions. So if you show up at the medical entrance examination and you have a history of motion sickness, the military makes you wait three years and prove that you've been stable for three years...
BELKIN: ...Before allowing you to enlist in the military. It's not the recruiter who determines that, but that's the medical examiner. And so what the military has said in the case of gender dysphoria is that if you have a history of gender dysphoria or if you've been treated for gender dysphoria, meaning that you have started to transition gender, that you have to document that for the past 18 months you've been psychologically stable and medically stable and socially stable and professionally stable. And what they want to make sure is that just like every other medical condition, yes, it's OK if you have a history of gender dysphoria, but you also have to document that you're fit for military service. And so in the old standard, the military had a blanket restriction against gender dysphoria, against transgender people. So if you showed up at the recruiting station...
FRAYER: You were turned away.
BELKIN: ...You were turned away. Exactly. But now, they treat it like everything else, which is to say if you have it but you're stable, you're welcome to serve.
FRAYER: Critics of transgender enlistment say they're concerned that this will affect military readiness. How do these rules relate to those concerns about military readiness and order and discipline?
BELKIN: Well, the research is very clear, and this is research by the RAND Corporation and non-military scholars but also the military's own research that inclusive policy promotes readiness. It helps the military do its job when people are treated with respect and are able to serve openly and honestly. And this is not just scholarly research, but we actually have best practices and experiences from 18 foreign militaries that allow transgender people to serve openly and honestly. And we also have the last year and a half in the United States when transgender people have been able to serve openly and honestly.
FRAYER: Aaron Belkin leads the Palm Center, which advocates on behalf of transgender people in the U.S. military. Thank you very much.
BELKIN: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.