On Sunday, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told ABC’s Martha Raddatz that he believes the military should review its policy on transgender service members. In a year of many big reforms in the military (particularly surrounding gender and sexual assault), this policy had been something of a blind spot. Thanks to an outdated web of military regulations, transgender service members who come out are processed for separation, either medical (the military still considers transgender identity a form of sexual deviance) or for violating a conduct regulation (forbidding cross-dressing or taking medication not prescribed by a military doctor), often with a less than honorable discharge that makes it difficult for them to access veterans' benefits. Still, experts estimate more than 15,000 transgender people currently serve in the U.S. Army, with varying degrees of comfort and secrecy. To find out more about what it’s like for them, and what’s holding the military back from recognizing them, the Cut spoke with Allyson Robinson, a West Point alum who commanded a Patriot missile unit before coming out and becoming an advocate for LGBT service members. She now serves as policy director of SPART*A and a principal consultant on the docuseries "Transmilitary."
What do you think of Secretary Hagel’s endorsement of a review of the military’s transgender policy?
I find it very encouraging for two reasons. One, it’s been four years since we repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. I think it’s an acknowledgement that the integration of gay and lesbian people has gone very, very well and is contributing to the strength of our military. It also represents something the Pentagon doesn’t do very often: a very fast pivot on an issue. The situation prior to three weeks ago was a refusal even to acknowledge that trans people even existed. About three weeks ago, the story of U.S. Navy dominance warfare specialist Landon Wilson [who was up for a position with the highest-level security clearance until it was discovered he’d transitioned in 2011] was on the front page of the Washington Post. The Pentagon went from having no plans to review the policy to, in just a couple of weeks, the secretary of defense saying it should be reviewed. That represents a very quick change for an institution that is not known for quick turnarounds.