Veterans and Military Issues 

Thirteen percent of all adults in the United States are veterans of the armed services. It is probable then that approximately thirteen percent of transgender people are veterans as well. Like all veterans, transgender people who have served in the military deserve the same respect and services earned by other veterans. Trans vets at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Transgender veterans at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier


Transgender people are denied the ability to join the armed forces as a result of various discriminatory policies. Not only is this unjust to individual transgender people who wish to serve their country through military service, it weakens our national defense by barring qualified people from duty. The following proposals will end this discrimination and strengthen the military by attracting and retaining qualified personnel.

  • Repeal “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”. Congress should pass the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, which would repeal the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue” policy. Although this policy deals specifically with sexual orientation, privacy for transgender service members and even the ability to serve is also hampered by the ban.
  • Ability to Serve. The Department of Defense should eliminate transgender status and gender identity disorder diagnosis as automatic disqualifications from military service and should ensure that medical fitness standards treat transgender service members equally with all other service members.
  • Uniform Code of Military Justice. The Department of Defense should revise the relevant sections of the Uniform Code of Military Justice to allow transgender people to serve openly.
  • Registering with Selective Service. The Selective Service System should change its policies to respect gender identity in determining who is required to register with the Selective Service.
  • Anti-Harassment Action Plan. The Department of Defense should amend its Anti-Harassment Action Plan to include gender identity and expression and should enforce the plan.
  • DD-215 Forms. The Department of Defense should issue and enforce a consistent policy for issuance of an amended Report of Separation (DD-215). Specifically, the Air Force should be required to issue DD-215 forms and the surgery requirement to amend gender on military discharge papers should be eliminated for all branches.
  • DEERS Records. The Department of Defense should create a policy for updating the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) system that allows alteration of gender. Additionally, the policy should allow the system to be automatically updated when the underlying service record is changed.
  • DFAS Records. The Department of Defense should create a policy for updating the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) system that allows alteration of gender. Additionally, the policy should allow the system to be automatically updated when the underlying service record is changed.


Despite the prohibition of military service by openly transgender people, many thousands have served in the armed forces, and continue to serve, before transitioning. Once out of the military, transgender veterans are often unable to access the health care they need to due to discriminatory policies. Furthermore, benefits available to most veterans, such as special mortgage and student loan rates, can be difficult to access because inflexible military documentation rules restrict transgender veterans from having appropriate and consistent proof of service. We owe it to our veterans to deliver the benefits they were promised and have earned.

  • VA Model Policy. The Department of Veterans Affairs should develop a model policy for the fair and competent treatment of transgender patients at all VA facilities. The policy should require that VA personnel refer to transgender veterans based on their self-identified gender, provide appropriate gender-specific care, and assign housing or other facilities based on self-identified gender.
  • Transition-Related Care. The Department of Veterans Affairs should eliminate the current exemption of transition-related health care services. VA facilities should also ensure the provision of competent physical and mental health services for transgender veterans.
  • Data Quality Requirements. The Department of Veterans Affairs Data Quality Requirements should be amended to eliminate the requirement for veterans to provide legal documentation in order to be allowed to amend gender designation in the database.

"Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue, Don’t Harass (DADTDPDH) is a federal policy that allows for the discharge of lesbian, gay, and bisexual military personnel based on their sexual orientation. The four component of DADTDPDH state that:

  1. Commanders and Inquiry Official may not ask servicemembers to reveal their sexual orientation. If asked, servicemembers are not required to provide information regarding their sexual orientation.
  2. Servicemembers may be discharged for saying they are lesbian, gay or bisexual or for saying they plan to “engage in homosexual acts”.
  3. A commanding official may initiate an investigation into a service member’s sexual orientation only if the service member has stated that they are lesbian, gay, or bisexual; have engaged in sexual activity with someone of the same sex; or attempts to marry someone of the same sex.
  4. Anti-gay harassment (verbal or physical) will not be tolerated.

Even though DADTDPDH has been in place for a number of years, military personal continually bend or break these rules. While these rules do not directly address gender identity, trans people in the military may find themselves dealing with this policy.Members of the US military needing legal assistance regarding the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy should contact the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network or 202-328-3244.

Selective Service

View current information about transgender people and the Selective Service. (New fact sheet updated July 2008)

Transgender Veterans March to the Wall

From April 30th to May 2nd, 2004 the Transgender American Veterans Association (TAVA) commemorated and celebrated transgender veterans in Washington, DC. Trans veterans and their allies from across the country gathered for this historic occasion.

NCTE helped kick off the weekend on the evening of April 30th by honoring the veterans with a welcome reception. The events continued the following day with a march to the Vietnam Wall, a visit to the Iwo Jima Memorial, and a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery.

Angela Brightfeather, TAVA Special Projects Committee Chair and one of the March organizers, reflected on the ceremony at Arlington Cemetery with the following words, “As people watched us cry at the Tomb of the Unknown when the wreath was dedicated and announced as coming from the Transgender American Veterans Association, everyone present knew and understood that they were at that moment a part of an historic event. Humanity was honored in that short period of time.”

Transgender veterans have been rendered invisible by the transphobia that pervades our society. This weekend gave all of us the opportunity to honor transgender veterans and their service to our country.

Never before has an organization had the vision to organize such an event and NCTE applauds TAVA for the success of this weekend and their service to transgender veterans.




© 2011 National Center for Transgender Equality
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