Decisions on removing transgender soldiers from Army moving to federal level

USA Today has turned up an interesting memo making its way through the ranks of the Army this month which, if implemented, will impact how personnel procedures are handled. According to the memo, the decision to process and discharge transgender soldiers would be made by a high level civilian official, presumably making it far more unlikely that such dismissals would take place.

Instead of being made by lower-level Army officers, the memorandum says, the decision to discharge transgender soldiers would be made by the assistant secretary of the Army for personnel. In all services, transgender troops can be automatically dismissed from service on medical grounds once they are identified.

“Assigning responsibility for discharge decisions to a senior official would be a welcome step toward inclusive policy, but transgender troops will still have to serve in silence until more is done to dismantle the ban,” said Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, which has published research on sexual orientation issues in the military.

The Army had no comment about the memo, known as an All Army Activities directive, or the level at which decisions on dismissing transgender soldiers had been made, said Wayne Hall, an Army spokesman. Senior Defense department officials confirmed that the Army is considering the change. The new directive would expire after 12 months, or sooner, if a broader reinterpretation of the Army’s rules about transgender soldiers is issued.

This comes close on the heels of the government’s decision to allow Chelsea Manning, currently residing in Leavenworth, to undergo hormone therapy for “gender reassignment” treatment. At the time that was announced I asked the following question.

This gets more complicated because as things currently stand, “transgender individuals” are still barred from serving in the Army, but Leavenworth is only for service members. How are they going to square that conflict?

It’s hard to ignore the possibility that this memo is the first step in answering that question. By authorizing the hormone treatment the military has issued a de facto nod of the head to the status of Manning as being transgender. But if that’s the case, then under standing protocol Manning would have to be discharged. What would happen to his status as a prisoner or where he would be housed at that point would be up for debate. But if they can simply ignore the problem and keep him in the service, one problem is solved.

But that solution doesn’t address the host of other cases currently pending or sure to come in the future in terms of how the military handles their personnel issues. In order to function, the Army has to have a standardized set of rules to follow. You either allow transgender soldiers or you don’t. And when one turns up, the local command needs to be able to handle the situation just as they would with any other violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. But if this new ruling goes into effect a different standard will suddenly be applied where commanders will need to ask the permission of some far removed, civilian bureaucrat before any action can be taken.

This smells of a policy which was cooked up by someone who doesn’t really understand how the military works. The Army operates on consistency and black and white rules which are enforced uniformly across the ranks. Doing otherwise cripples the institution. If the administration feels they must tackle this question, either the policy regarding service by transgender individuals needs to be changed or they need to keep enforcing the rules as they stand. A half measure such as this simply adds obfuscation and confusion to a system which requires rigidity to survive.

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