TRANSGENDER REPRESENTATION IN MILITARY AROUND THE WORLD

INTRODUCTION

It is 2021, and only 21 countries accept transgender soldiers in their military. It was the Netherlands[1] that first welcomed transgender soldiers in 1974, followed by other Nordic countries like Sweden in 1976, Denmark in 1978, and Norway in 1979. After that, it was only in 1992 when other countries like Australia and Canada changed their policy. Israel in 1993 and Czech Republic in 1999 embraced the policy. In the 2000’s European countries like the UK, France, Germany, Estonia, and Finland joined the bandwagon of equality. Belgium in 2003, Austria in 2004, and Spain in 2005 was the last of the European countries to join. In 2005, Thailand became the first Asian country to accept transgender soldiers in administrative roles. In 2010, Bolivia became the first Latin American country to include transgender militants.

Argentina set a new gold standard with a “self-determination” gender identity law adopted in 2012: For the first time in the Western Hemisphere, individuals could change their legal gender by simply filling out a form — no surgery or doctor’s permission required. Four nations in Europe have since accepted self-declaration laws based on Argentina’s.

During his term as the President, Donald Trump ended the Obama-era policy, initiated in 2016, which allowed transgender people to openly serve in the military, via a tweet.[2] The modification did not stop transgender people from serving, but they were allowed to do so only if they agree to serve in the gender they were assigned at birth.

The Trump administration’s transgender ban places deployability as a determining factor into whether to admit transgender individuals into the military.[3] The RAND Corporation [4] from the US, studied and estimated that the 238 days is excluding the time that is used to determine medical fitness to deploy. Army guidelines do not permit stationing within six weeks of surgery, as this is the recommended resting time.

The World Professional Association for Transgender Health considers other surgeries, including scrotoplasty, facial hair removal, facial plastic reconstruction, hair removal, and voice therapy or surgery, as medically fundamental for Gender Dysphoria.

 US has a history of LGBTQ subjugation in the military.  It started with the Clinton’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy a law that banned openly gay and transgendered Americans from serving in the armed forces. This was repealed in 2011 by the Obama administration on the grounds of inclusivity.

The United States has allowed Transgender personnel to serve in the military under varying conditions since Joe Biden’s signing of an executive order. The new policies will allow transgender people to enlist in the military and serve openly as their self-identified gender, and that they will have access to medical treatments for transition-related care authorized by law. These troops must still meet military standards.

However, according to reports, despite policy changes allowing for open LGBQ military service and the provision of some benefits to same-sex military couples, cultures of homophobia and discrimination persist.

The most common reason why countries don’t allow trans personnel in the military is that they consider it a mental illness. This includes depression, suicidal thoughts, and complications from hormone therapy. Countries believe that diversity in the troops will lead to a drop in morale. Cohesion, the driving factor of a troop will be essentially lost, and openly transgender fellow militants will make them uncomfortable. 

It is believed that when sexual orientation is revealed, transgender individuals face harassment from peers and superiors. Concealment will however lead to social isolation, which is not ideal for the military as it is highly based on connection and support of the troops. In fact, Commanders revealed that sexual harassment of women by men poses a far greater threat to unit performance than anything related to sexual orientation.

Countries should not shy away from trans personnel involvement and acceptance in the military as it is a huge step towards equality, diversity, and positivity in the workspace. Militaries that exclude transgender people on grounds of mental illness, whose policies pathologize gender dysphoria, are at odds with the current medical understanding. In 2014, the Indian Psychiatric Society (IPS) stated the natural nature of gender dysphoria.

PROBLEMS FACED BY LGBTQ PERSONNEL

Unfortunately, the LGBTQ community around the world have been suffering from widespread discrimination, harassment and violence for years, and the armed forces are no different.

Studies have proven that countries that allow LGBTQ personnel in their military, don’t necessarily avoid discrimination against members of the community. For example, the Israeli military is noted for its acceptance of openly gay soldiers. However, as a country, it is still stumbling its way around executing LGBTQ positive policies and laws. According to reports and articles the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) has been victims of verbal and physical violence as well as homophobia and ignorance.

Another instance of discrimination and harassment faced by LGBTQ personnel in the armed forces could be portrayed through the Danish army, where trans military personnel tends to conceal their homosexuality until fixed employment, out of fear of losing respect, authority, privileges, and in some cases, even their jobs.

Signs of homophobia and cultural insensitivity are still prevalent in many countries. Open discrimination against trans personnel can also be seen in the Iranian military force. In Iran, males who reach the age of eighteen are mandatorily required to serve in the military. The only exemptions are for only sons, sole caretakers, or men suffering from a mental or physical illness. Transgender men in Iran are classified as suffering from a mental illness, which unfortunately for them leads to an unavoidable exemption from the military.

CONCLUSION

Transgender have been a historically marginalized population that continually faces enormous social and economic challenges as well as health disparities. Moreover, homophobia and the use of stereotypes have led to further discrimination against LGBTQ individuals and specifically, transgender troops. In the long run, equality in the military can only be represented when countries around the world permit those who are qualified and wish to serve, serve with dignity and respect. And it is the responsibility of the country and its institutions to advocate for the safety of their transgender armed forces.

The military deals with their transgender personnel a different manner and in individual chains of command. Some can be more inclusive than others, solely based on how they interpret policies governing gender identity issues. Studies have also revealed that a certain degree of acceptance by the top chain of command seems to have a significant impact on the experiences that transgender troops endure in the military. The transgender ban has solidified the truth that the military has a long way to go before they can honestly say that their institution is a diverse and increasingly changing crowd of active duty service personnel. 

One of the main problems is the widespread misinformation and confusion prevalent in both the civilian as well as military populace about transgender individuals. Hence, educating the forces should be the top priority to overcome transgender bias and discrimination. The first step has to be abolishing the fear of stigmatisation so that trans individuals can enlist within their unit. Trans troops that are already serving should receive a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, and they should be provided with transition-related medical care as well. Militaries in countries can make a conscious decision of including gender-identity awareness programs that focus on decreasing harassment and discrimination against transgender troops. Countries with transgender bans in their military forces can learn a great deal by considering the procedures implemented by the other 21 militaries around the world that enlist transgender troops.

Therefore, efforts should be made by countries to develop up-to-date procedures and gender-fluid norms that promote and maintain a safe and healthy working environment for transgender service members. Such policies will only result in improved professionalism and stronger leadership which will, in turn, be influential in diminishing discrimination and enabling trans troops to serve openly without fear in the military. 

In India, Jagdambika Pal, a Member of the Parliament had introduced a bill to amend the Army Act, 1950, the Navy Act, 1957, the Air Force, 1950 to allow transgender individuals to serve in the military. At present, India has no provision for hiring transgender people in the paramilitary forces or the Indian Army. However, in an unprecedented gender reform, the Ministry of Home Affairs asked the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) for their views on recruiting transgender people as the ‘third gender’ into the police forces. After which, the ITBP, SSB, and CRPF stated that they follow the principle of “gender neutrality”, and they are ready to take transgender personnel as officers.

The move comes after the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, which was notified by the central government in December 2019, according to which, no establishment shall discriminate against transgender persons in matters relating to employment, recruitment, promotion, and other related issues. This will be a huge step forward for transgender rights, especially in India’s tradition-bound paramilitary forces. Once formalised, this move can also be expected to stimulate trans recruitment in other areas, including the armed forces and police organisations as well. 

India still has a long way to go, as we still see the LGBTQ community struggling to get their basic rights. Not to forget, our country has only just started embracing women into the army, which shows that trans representation in the army might still be a faraway vision.

Author(s) Name: Saloni Bhambi (ILS Law College, Pune)

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[1] Paul LeBlanc, The Countries that allowed transgender troops to serve in their armed forces, CNN US (June 27, 2017, 6:41 PM), https://edition.cnn.com/2017/07/27/us/world-transgender-ban-facts/index.html.

[2] Jane Doe v. Donald J. Trump, Civil Action No. 17-1597 (CKK October 30, 2017).

[3] Elizabeth Harrington, Average Transgender Soldier Unable to Deploy for 238 Days, The Washington Free Beacon (August 24, 2017, 1:20 PM), https://freebeacon.com/national-security/average-transgender-soldier-unable-deploy-238-days/.

[4] Schaefer, Agnes Gereben, Radha Iyengar Plumb, Srikanth Kadiyala, Jennifer Kavanagh, Charles C. Engel, Kayla M. Williams, and Amii M. Kress, Assessing the Implications of Allowing Transgender Personnel to Serve Openly. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2016. https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR1530.html.