An independent commission has concluded there "is no compelling medical reason" for the U.S. military to continue its ban on allowing transgender people to serve, recommending that President Barack Obama overturn the regulations with an executive order.
The commission, lead by former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders, said in a report released Thursday that the decades-old ban was based on a previously held belief by the medical community that gender-identity issues amount to a mental disorder, thereby making transgender people psychologically and physically unfit for the service, according to CBS News
"We determined not only that there is no compelling medical reason for the ban, but also that the ban itself is an expensive, damaging, and unfair barrier to healthcare access for the approximately 15,450 transgender personnel who serve currently in the active, Guard, and reserve components," according to the report by the panel, which was convened by a San Francisco State University think tank, CBS News said.
The current regulations require transgender service members either to leave the service or forgo the medical procedures and other changes to align their bodies with their gender identities.
The ban also implies that hormone treatment and sex-change surgeries would be too difficult, disruptive, and expensive, a premise rejected by the commission as out of step with modern medical practices.
The commission recommends that the president issue an executive order to overturn the existing rules. The Pentagon would then need to develop procedures for assigning service members who are transitioning.
"At this time there are no plans to change the department's policy and regulations which do not allow transgender individuals to serve in the U.S. military," Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a defense department spokesman, told CBS News.
Advocates of a change in policy, including retired Brig. Gen. Thomas Kolditz, who is a former Army commander and West Point professor on the commission, say allowing transgender people to openly serve would reduce gender-based harassment, assaults, and suicides, while enhancing national security.
"When you closet someone, you create a security risk, and we don't need another Chelsea Manning," Kolditz told CBS News, referring to the soldier formerly known as Bradley Manning who came out as transgender after being sentenced for leaking classified documents to the website WikiLeaks.
Those who oppose lifting the ban say that putting transgender people in barracks, showers, and other sex-segregated situations could cause sexual assaults to increase, infringe on the privacy of nontransgender personnel, and put an extra burden on people who are serving.
At least a dozen countries, including Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Israel, allow military service by transgender people, according to CBS News.
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