Members of a U.S. House Armed Services subcommittee on Wednesday heard testimony from five transgender members of the U.S. military, just over a month after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration can ban future transgender members of the military.
The ruling made Jan. 22, 2019, said transgender men and women already serving in the military can stay, but any further applicants who have already undergone a gender transition could be barred from the service.
Members of the service with gender dysphoria, or a feeling that their physical gender does not match the gender they feel themselves to be, would be required to serve as their physical gender.
The Trump administration said the restrictions were necessary because of “tremendous medical costs and disruption” of having transgender military personnel serve.
But the five transgender witnesses Wednesday testified that their openness about their gender identity has helped other service members to be transparent as well.
U.S. Army Capt. Alivia Stehlik, a physical therapist, said her patients have told her they could be more honest with her because of her own authenticity about her identity. She said that has made her more effective at her work.
Army Capt. Jennifer Peace said, “I consider myself to be a prime example of what a transgender service member can do.” She said she fears that the new ban would keep transgender service members already on the force from taking opportunities that would require leaving the military, because they would be banned from returning.
Staff Sgt. Patricia King said the people under her command were readier for combat because her transgender status made for a more open atmosphere. “There were no secrets, no false bravado, no hiding,” she said. “We built cohesion in a way that I have never seen in my 19 years of service. That’s the value of openness.”
And Jesse Ehrenfeld, a U.S. Navy veteran who now studies gay and lesbian health at Vanderbilt University, said there is “no medically valid reason to exclude gender-transitioned individuals from military service.”
He added, “There is nothing about being transgender that diminishes an individual’s ability to serve. … Banning transgender troops harms readiness through forced dishonesty.”
The Trump administration introduced the transgender ban in July 2017 via a tweet by the president. Civil rights groups have sued to overturn the restrictions.