ARMED DIVERSITY IN THE U.S. MILITARY: INCREASES OUR NATIONAL SECURITY

In my thirty years of non-profit LGBT causes and other worthy philanthropic pursuits, I have no prouder work than my involvement with the fine men and women of the United States Armed Forces. As Co-Chair of the Outserv Service Members Legal Defense Network's National Dinner, I was able to see firsthand the courage and conviction of our armed heroes.

Speaking alongside presidential advisor Valerie Jarrett, I was humbled to see our soldiers allowed to wear their uniforms to the dinner for the first time. The paramount service they selflessly offer the country should be unquestionably honored and dignified, and in most cases it is. However, only until very recently service members who were "discovered" to have preferences for their own sex were discharged, outed to their communities, and shamefully and officially repudiated by our government. Thankfully, that practice has ended with the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Pursue."

Unfortunately, the protections to gay and lesbian soldiers was not also extended to their transgender brothers and sisters in uniform. This miscarriage of justice is an important issue with serious consequences.

Since the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell in 2011, the United States Military has incorporated openly gay service members into the enlisted and officer command structure with stunning results. The effects of the DADT repeal are surprising to some, only because of the avalanche of dire warnings of the disintegration of the armed forces' morale, collapse of unit cohesion, and utter decimation of military readiness that the repeal would be responsible for:

"I hope that when we pass this legislation that we will understand that we are doing great damage. And we could possibly and probably... harm the battle effectiveness vital to the survival of our young men and women in the military." - Sen. John McCain [1]

"The repeal may even prove decisive to the viability of the all-volunteer force" - Center for Security Policy [1]

In the years following the repeal, the nation's top civilian and military leadership have uniformly praised post-DADT as "a non-event...very pleased with how it has gone" - Marine Commandant Gen. Amos; "now they can serve openly, with full honor, integrity and respect. This makes our military and our nation stronger, much stronger"- Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel [1]. It is now clear in both private and military commissioned studies, that the repeal has had "no adverse effect on readiness, cohesion, recruitment, retention, or morale" - Palm Center [2].

In a historic moment for the LGBT community, and a vindication of sorts of the DADT repeal, last month, Eric Fanning was sworn in as the first openly gay Secretary of the Army [9]. Secretary Fanning has received wide bipartisan support as an extremely qualified candidate for the position. The main opponent to his confirmation, Sen. Roberts (R-Kansas), relented after receiving assurances from the administration on an unrelated issue, declared "He will be a tremendous leader as Army secretary and will do great by our soldiers [10]". An eminently capable national security expert, the Secretary's appointment and confirmation represents a sea change in national attitudes about gays serving in, and leading, the military at both the civilian and government level. The unprecedented appoint only serves to confirm the benign irrelevance of one's LGBT status to perform a duty to serve and command.

With strong majorities of the nation now readily accepting openly gay service members [3], the next front of LGBT inclusion in the armed forces has become a national issue: transgender equality. The transgender community and its allies are engaging in a countrywide debate over legal rights, workplace protections, bathroom designations, and military service. The trans community faces a virtually identical battle as the one fought by their gay, lesbian, and bisexual counterparts only a few years ago. Despite DADT's repeal, military regulations still prohibit transgender people form serving openly [4]. This in spite of the American Medical Association's assertion that "there is no medically valid reason to exclude transgender individuals from service in the US military [4]".

The battle cries and grim prophecies from the religious right of the consequences of allowing trans people from open service are familiar:

"FRC believes gender dysphoria should be considered a condition which continues to prevent one from entering or remaining in the military" - Family Research Council [5]

"The Military is not a social experiment..to transform the culture by trying out some ideas that some people would make us a different country and more diverse. I'm not sure how paying for transgender surgeries...would makes our country safer." - Former Gov. Mike Huckabee [6]

The rhetoric is the same that was used against gay people who wished to serve with honor as open, proud fighters for our country.

Whereas gay, lesbian, and bisexual in fact have always served in the armed forces, DADT simply permitted them to be open about their orientation. Similarly, trans service members constitute an estimated 15,000 active duty count, and a further 134,000 veterans of the U.S. Military [7]. As was the case for gay soldiers, the trans community and their allies wish only for the military to cease discharge proceedings against open service members.

The effects of changing this regulation would have minimal impact on military readiness, while serving as an enormous morale boost to those most affected by it. In fact, a Pentagon commissioned report "on the effects of allowing transgender individuals to serve openly shows such a move would have little to no impact, including negligible costs and minimal effect on military cohesion or readiness, based on the experience of similar policies in other countries." - Wall Street Journal [8].

The strength of our armed forces is in fact bolstered by embracing the diversity of the nation it serves and protects.

By encouraging open, honorable service the military declares fidelity to the principles of equality and justice upon which the republic was founded. These essential bedrocks of democracy have no more appropriate venue for enshrinement than the protectors of the Constitution.

Contrary to dissenting claims, the military has led the way in transformational social issues - from desegregation, to women in command positions, to integrating openly gay soldiers. The armed forces have become more powerful, more reflective of the American population, and a stronger beacon of democratic values by implanting these changes with honor. Further, The Pentagon itself has concluded in an unprecedented new report that allowing trans soldiers to serve openly "do not report evidence of negative impacts on unit cohesion and readiness,' based on a review of 18 countries that allow transgender personnel to serve openly" [8].

It is time to fulfill the promise of our nation that all men, and all women are created equally. This premise not only guarantees a fundamental democratic process, but greatly increases our domestic security at home, and advances our vital interests abroad.

The world looks to the United States of America as the standard of an inclusive society buttressed by a constitutional respect for minority's rights.

The greatest fighting force in the world surely has the obligation to amplify that timeless message by modeling its own ranks on our historic guarantee of equality before the law.

The fact is, the arch of American history has always veered towards more inclusion, less prejudice, and equalizing transformation. By this next step towards bringing transgender persons into the full dignity of our society, and military, the United States becomes a more perfect union once again.

1. http://www.hrc.org/resources/transgender-military-service [1]

2. http://www.palmcenter.org/files/One%20Year%20Out_0.pdf [2]

3. https://www.aei.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/-polls-on-attitudes-on-homosexuality-gay-marriage_151640318614.pdf [3]

4. http://www.transequality.org/blog/ama-calls-for-end-to-trans-military-ban-air-force-suspends-discharges [4]

5. http://downloads.frc.org/EF/EF16B37.pdf [5]

6. http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/huckabee-transgender-troops [6]

7. http://www.transequality.org/issues/military-veterans [7]

8. http://www.wsj.com/articles/allowing-open-transgender-military-service-would-pose-few-difficulties-report-finds-1463451644 [8]

9. http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/eric-fanning-first-openly-gay-army-secretary-gets-sworn-n576396 [9]

10. http://www.defensenews.com/story/defense/2016/05/17/senate-confirms-fanning-first-openly-gay-service-secretary/84511368/ [10]