Since the 1960s, transgender service members were been banned from serving openly in the military, and that prohibition remained in place for decades. Although “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed in 2011 for lesbian, gay and bisexual service members, it was not repealed with respect to transgender military service members. The Trump administration has attempted to largely reaffirm this policy after the the Obama administration announced that it would be lifted starting in 2016, with new transgender recruits being able to enlist openly starting in 2018. The constitutionality of the Trump policy is being challenged in the courts at the time of this writing, and the future of transgender service members’ rights is uncertain.
In 2015, the American Medical Association approved a resolution stating there are no medically valid reasons that transgender individuals should be barred from serving. Currently about 15,500 transgender service members are serving in the armed forces. A National Transgender Discrimination Survey revealed that 20% of transgender adults are veterans that have served in the military.
If you are an active duty service member, you should be aware that trying to change your gender in military records or disclosing your gender identity may put you in danger of adverse consequences while the military's policy regarding transgender service members remains in flux.
Updating Your Military Records
Records with your former name or outdated gender designation may compromise your privacy or result in discrimination or harassment when you are job seeking or applying for benefits. Disclosure of a former name in many instances is a disclosure of a transgender status that can prejudice your rights in future situations. In some cases, it is wise to try to change your military records after you leave active duty service.
The Department of Defense doesn’t provide clear and straightforward guidance about how to update your information in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) or your DD214 Military Discharge Record. Each military department maintains its own Board for Corrections of Military Records and each has discretion to evaluate requested corrections.
You are allowed to submit a correction of records if it is necessary to remove an injustice or correct an error. Due to the prejudice that exists for transgender individuals seeking jobs or housing, a former name on a military record can present an injustice that gives rise to a reasonable request to update your name on your Military Discharge Record.
To update your Military Discharge Record you can submit a DD Form 149 along with supporting evidence related to your name change request. No specific requirements regarding what constitutes such evidence have been put forward, but documents that may be influential include: a court order recognizing your gender transition, a letter from a licensed provider indicating that you obtained appropriate clinical treatment for a gender transition, a state driver’s license, or a US Passport with your updated name and gender. Any or all of these can be submitted.
To update your name and gender in DEERS, the Service Project Office for your military department will need to submit a request to Defense Human Resources Activity for implementation. It will also need to submit evidence like the evidence described above for an update to your Military Discharge Record. Your gender or name change doesn’t affect the eligibility of dependents for military benefits.
When the change requested is a gender marker change, you will need a signed statement given under penalty of perjury on official letterhead from a licensed physician that states the physician is your physician, and that you’ve had the appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition. The Service Project Office will receive a confirmation once the record is updated.
A person’s transgender status can also have implications for how the draft is implemented. The draft is administered by the Selective Service System. If you were assigned female at birth, you’re not required to register with the Selective Service irrespective of your current gender. However, when you apply for federal financial aid or loans as a man, you might be asked whether you are exempt from the draft and you will need to obtain a Status Information Letter. People who were assigned male at birth must register with the Selective Service in the thirty-day period after their eighteenth birthday. This group includes anyone who transitioned before or after that. Social Security and other databases are used by the Selective Service to determine who has been assigned male at birth.
Health Care for Transgender Service Members
Transgender service members have been able to access transition-related healthcare since 2016. Some of this care has been made unavailable under the Trump administration, and future access to transition-related heathcare is uncertain pending the legal challenges to the Trump administration’s attempted ban on transgender military service.
Currently, transgender veterans are able to obtain many transition-related healthcare services under federal policy, including hormonal therapy, mental health services, and pre-and post-operative care. The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) has directed all facilities to institute a policy of respectful, nondiscriminatory delivery of healthcare to transgender and intersex veterans that are eligible for healthcare through the Department of Veterans Affairs. However, the Department does not currently fund gender affirming surgeries.