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Is the Department of Defense Changing on Transgender Policy?

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In the recent LGBT Pride Month Celebration at the Pentagon, President Obama's top adviser and the Secretary of Defense both used soaring terms to praise the fight for LGBT equality in the military. There's just one problem: the "T" in "LGBT" means "transgender," and transgender persons are still barred from service in the United States military.

During his speech, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel used the term "LGBT" four times, including in one instance when he said, "Gay and lesbian service members and LGBT civilians are integral to America's armed forces." Valerie Jarett used the term "LGBT" three times, also using "gay and lesbian" as a substitute for "LGBT," during her speech about LGBT Pride Month. It's as if they forgot what the term "LGBT" means.

If Hagel is making a distinction between active-duty service members and the civilian DoD employees, then we have to ask why the DoD is making this distinction. Now that the "don't ask, don't tell" (DADT) policy is repealed, there is no legal reason that the military can't change its policies regarding transgender persons.

According to Outserve-SLDN, the military still considers "transexualism" a mental disorder and will prevent persons from serving if they have "major abnormalities or defects of the genitalia." Aside from the easy question of how a strange-looking private part has anything to do with protecting our nation, I've written about how the military's simple-minded concepts of gender have created an unofficial "Nail Polish War."

In fact, the military could get rid of all gender-identity-based discharges by updating its medical classifications in accordance with the American Psychiatric Association's mental health guidelines, which prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or expression. Individual military departments like the Navy, the Army and the Air Force could also set new guidelines granting waivers to transgender recruits who have already begun their transition and show no adverse side effects.

Bottom line: The only thing keeping the DoD from open transgender service is the DoD.

It's hard to imagine such a profound verbal faux pas on the part of the Department of Defense or the White House, whose words are carefully planned and edited by public affairs professionals. As a veteran and a former Navy Mass Communications Specialist, I can say that mistakes like this just don't happen. Either the Secretary of Defense and the White House are planning to change the rules on transgender persons or they are acknowledging a segregated policy that allows open transgender service for desk-job civilians but prohibits those who are putting their lives on the line from serving with the same dignity.

Even within the gay community there has been very little discussion about the DoD's hypocrisy. It's as if, after the repeal of DADT and DOMA, we have given up. I've looked over dozens of news stories related to the June 25 event, and it seems that many were unthinkingly written from the same DoD press releases, with little else added. I couldn't find a single story written by a journalist who attended the event and bothered to mention the difficulties still faced by transgender persons in the military.

"LGBT equality" and "LGBT pride" are not buzz words to be thrown around by savvy government officials and politically correct news sources. When someone says or writes "LGBT," it needs to be in reference to our whole community, not just to the parts that society most approves of. It's past time that the gay community proved that we value the "T" in "LGBT." If this isn't a sign of a DoD change in policy, then we need to quit letting the DoD and the White House get away with it.