SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - The Obama administration should dump a decades-old ban on transgender people serving in the military that relies on bad science, an independent commission said Thursday.
There is "no compelling medical rationale for banning transgender military service," a practice that has outlasted the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in 2010, according to the 34-page report from the Transgender Military Service Commission.
Co-chaired by former Clinton-era Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, the commission convened by a pro-LGBT think tank found called the ban "expensive, damaging and unfair" to the nearly 15,000 transgender personnel who serve in the military.
"Medical standards for enlistment are generally designed to ensure that applicants are free of conditions that would interfere with duty performance, endanger oneself or others, or impose undue burdens for medical care," the group wrote. "The regulations, however, bar the enlistment of transgender individuals regardless of ability to perform or degree of medical risk. Unlike other medical disqualifications, which are based on modern medical expertise and military experience, the transgender enlistment bar is based on standards that are decades out of date."
While the armed forces have updated regulations to reflect the latest consensus of psychiatric experts in other areas, they still view gender nonconformity as a mental illness rather than a medical issue, the commission found.
"Transgender medical care should be managed in terms of the same standards that apply to all medical care, and there is no medical reason to presume transgender individuals are unfit for duty," the group wrote. "Their medical care is no more specialized or difficult than other sophisticated medical care the military system routinely provides. Transgender service members should not be required to meet a higher standard of medical self-sufficiency than the military requires of anyone else. Existing policies and practices are adequate for identifying rare and extreme circumstances that may affect duty performance."
Distinguishing it from the federal law of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the commission noted that the current ban on transgender military personnel is a hodgepodge of Pentagon policies. As such the Obama administration could lift the ban and adjust military regulations without an act of Congress, the group said.
The gender identity issue nearly eclipsed the court-martial of Wikileaks source Pfc. Chelsea Manning last year. A military court sentenced Manning - who went by her birth name and male identity Bradley Manning until after trial - to 35 years for exposing 700,000 classified documents, some that detailed human rights abuses by U.S. forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo prison.
Manning is currently serving her sentence in a military prison at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan. A spokeswoman there told Courthouse News at the time that Manning would have access to mental health professionals, but that "the Army does not provide hormone therapy or sex-reassignment surgery for gender identity disorder."