House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has signaled for the first time that she supports allowing transgender people to serve openly in the U.S. armed forces.
Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesperson, told the Washington Blade on Friday his boss believes gender identity should not be a factor in prohibiting Americans from serving in the military.
“Leader Pelosi believes there is no place for discrimination in the U.S. Armed Forces, including on the basis of gender identity,” Hammill said.
Pelosi’s support for openly transgender service is consistent with her long support for LGBT rights, which includes being a driving force behind “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, advocacy for federal non-discrimination protections and early support for marriage equality.
Transgender people are prohibited from serving in the U.S. military under a medical regulation put in DOD Instruction 6130.03. That rule, put in place before 1980, states disqualifying conditions for military service include change of sex and a “current or history of psychosexual conditions (302) including but not limited to transexualism…exhibitionism, transvestitism, voyeurism and other paraphilias.”
In the aftermath of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, which allowed openly gay people to serve in the armed forces, transgender advocates have increased efforts to compel the Pentagon to change its policy on transgender service. Five months ago, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the policy should be reviewed and the White House said it backs his efforts, but no apparent movement has taken place since that time.
A Pentagon spokesperson confirmed this week that no review on the policy has been ordered. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest deferred to the Pentagon on the issue Thursday and said he’s unsure if Obama would call for a change in policy, but nonetheless said his boss believes equality “makes our armed forces stronger.”
An estimated 15,500 transgender people are serving in silence in the military because of the policy that bars them from being open about their gender identity, according to a May report from the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said she’s happy to have Pelosi’s support for openly transgender military service.
“Military service for transgender people is right morally and, very importantly, it’s right for military readiness,” Keisling said. “Leader Pelosi is correct of course. The outdated, discriminatory ban on open trans service is bad for trans people, bad for military readiness, and bad for America.”
Further, Keisling predicted that openly transgender service would come to fruition just as many other accomplishments for LGBT rights have taken place.
“We are 100 percent confident that open trans military service is as inevitable as the military bureaucracy that seems to have stalled progress once again,” Keisling said.
[UPDATE: Hammill clarified in a later email that Pelosi never previously opposed transgender military service and has articulated her support before. The Washington Blade is unable to find any previous public statement she’s made about the issue.]
Pelosi isn’t the first House Democrat to announce she supports the idea of openly transgender service in the armed forces. Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.), ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee, said in an interview with LGBT Weekly that she backs ending the military’s ban on trans service.
Following Davis’s remarks, the Washington Blade in August conducted a poll of the House Armed Services Committee members to see if any others supported open trans military service. Reps. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.), Scott Peters (D-Calif.) and Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.) said they support openly transgender military service, while Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) said the Pentagon should review its ban. No Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee responded to the Washington Blade’s request for comment on the issue.
On Monday, a forum hosted by the ACLU and the San Francisco-based Palm Center is set to take place in D.C. featuring transgender service members from around the globe. Among the speakers are Landon Wilson, a former sailor who was booted from the U.S. Navy for being transgender, and retired Navy SEAL Senior Chief Kristin Beck, who transitioned after she left the military.