After demise of ‘don’t ask,’ activists call for end to military ban on transgenders

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With homosexuals now able to serve openly in the military, the gay rights movement’s next battleground is to persuade the Obama administration to end the armed forces’ ban on “transgenders,” a group that includes transsexuals and cross-dressers.

“Our position is that the military should re-examine the policy, the medical regulations, so as to allow open service for transgender people,” said Vincent Paolo Villano, spokesman for the 6,000-member Center for Transgender Equality.

The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), which pushed to end the military’s gay ban, is urging President Obama to sign an executive order prohibiting discrimination based on “gender identity.”

It had wanted the order to happen on Sept. 20, the official date “don’t ask, don’t tell,” as the gay ban was called, ended via repeal legislation signed by Mr. Obama.

SLDN’s goal is contained on a Web page with the headline, “Working toward transgender military service.” The page states that a decision to remove the ban must be made at the Pentagon. “Relationships between transgender organizations, medical associations, and military allies will be crucial for advancing this issue,” it says.

“SLDN will continue to urge President Obama to issue an executive order to prohibit discrimination and harassment in the military based upon sexual orientation and gender identity, and we will work closely with our allies to educate and create greater awareness of this inequity,” SLDN spokesman Zeke Stokes said.

“SLDN supports the revision of medical regulations to ensure that transgender Americans may serve.”

SLDN has raised the possibility of filing lawsuits to attain its goals, which include housing and other benefits for the partners of gay military members.

A White House spokesman declined to provide Mr. Obama’s position on transgenders in the military, referring a reporter to the Pentagon.

“Transgender and transsexual individuals are not permitted to join the military services,” said Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen Lainez. “The repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ will have no effect on these policies.”

The SLDN says “transgender” is commonly identified as an umbrella term for “transsexuals, cross-dressers, gender-queer people, intersex people, and other gender-variant individuals.”

Transgenders are not banned by law, but rather by a Defense Department instruction, “Medical Standards for Appointment, Enlistment or Induction in the Military Service.”

It lists scores of medical conditions that make one ineligible, including: “Current or history of psychosexual conditions, including but not limited to transsexualism, exhibitionism, transvestism, voyeurism, and other paraphilias.”

The instruction was last updated by the Obama administration. Clifford Stanley, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, signed the new 52-page version in April 2010. If the administration did desire to lift the ban, it could have done it then, in theory.

SLDN has set up a website on Change.org for a petition asking Mr. Obama to issue a nondiscrimination order on transgenders.

In a letter to Mr. Obama, SLDN Director Aubrey Sarvis wrote: “We … call on you to show the leadership President Truman did when he issued an Executive Order banning racial discrimination in the armed services and to issue an Executive Order prohibiting discrimination in the armed services based on sexual orientation and gender identity to be effective on the date of repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican and Marine Corps combat veteran, said: “At some point, the administration will need to decide where this ranks among the military’s priorities. But it should send the message now that a line has been drawn, and it won’t get caught up in these discussions. I hope the administration has enough sense to see this for the unneeded distraction it is.”

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