Sergeant Shane Ortega has served three combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, two as a woman and one as a man, yet he has not been able to serve openly as a man for the simple fact he was born female. The US military continues to identify Ortega as a female, and Ortega says, “Administratively I shouldn’t exist.” Ortega’s transition did not affect his service, and he meets all the physical standards of a male soldier, yet he was barred from flight duties in mid 2014 for elevated testosterone levels, the result of hormones taken to support his transition. Ortega has now been cleared of ‘gender dysphoria’ and is expected to fly later this month. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a petition in September 2014 on behalf of Ortega and other transgender soldiers who face separation and dismissal proceedings.
As it stands, the Pentagon requires transgender troops be discharged from the military, usually on medical grounds due to its classification as a ‘mental disorder that makes someone unfit to serve.’
This policy is largely controversial for President Obama, who has expanded the legal protections on the basis of gender identity, condemned conversion therapy and advocated for the rights of transgender prisoners. It seems that LGBTIQ people can serve openly in the military except if you are ‘T’. With an estimated 15,500 transgender members in the military, the Pentagon in August 2014 asked each service to evaluate rules regarding transgender members that label them unfit for service, with results released 12 – 18months later. In the interim, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter have supported the idea of allowing Americans to serve irrespective of gender identity, and that disqualification on the sole basis of gender-identity is insufficient. In light of the political challenges around removing the combat exclusion for women and DADT, will there be a change of policy?
SOURCE: Juliet Eilperin, April 9 2015, ‘Transgender in the military: A pentagon in transition weighs its policy,’ The Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/transgender-in-the-military-a-pentagon-in-transition-weighs-its-policy/2015/04/09/ee0ca39e-cf0d-11e4-8c54-ffb5ba6f2f69_story.html