Transgender troops have served openly and received all medically necessary care since 2016. They’ve served with distinction all around the world, been lauded for their accomplishments, and are dedicated to the mission of the armed forces.
When the Trump administration all but banned transgender troops in 2019, it went against the prevailing view. Gallup found that an overwhelming majority of Americans — more than 70% — supported their opportunity to serve. And troops themselves mirrored that sentiment, with 66% of active duty personnel supporting transgender service, according to the Pentagon’s own study.
Now in 2023, 561 anti-transgender bills have been introduced across 49 states alongside 28 stand-alone bills in Congress. Most of these bills create local conditions hostile to a body of Americans, and their families, who have proven their worth in military service, and do not have a say in where they serve.
Conservative lawmakers are trying to turn back the clock, when it’s clear the majority of Americans, and troops themselves, understand that society benefits when all of us have the opportunity to be our best selves: to work, to live, to love authentically.
Recently, the House passed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act to prohibit the Department of Defense or Tricare from providing gender-affirming medical care to service members. The bill also prohibits the Exceptional Family Member Program from considering gender-affirming care as a consideration for where families with special medical needs can be stationed. This affects not just transgender troops but every military member that might one day learn they have a transgender child or spouse. Should this become law, families will face a stark choice between continued service and access to vital healthcare.
I can’t help but shed tears of joy watching videos of people who are able to hear or see for the first time, as a door to a new world explodes open for these individuals. The videos depict real-time revelation; a person discovering who they are when barriers are removed. That’s the best analogy to gender-affirming care: people unshackled from their restraints and reaching for their best selves.
People born with, or who develop, conditions affecting their sight or hearing often face medical or financial barriers to accessing care. For transgender people, add societal prejudices to the list preventing them from getting needed medical care.
Arguing to ban transgender care, Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Montana, said “I don’t want someone who doesn’t know if they are a man or a woman with their hand on a missile button.”
To be clear, transgender service members know exactly who they are. They are soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, guardians and Coasties. They are parents, spouses, children, friends, and colleagues. Those are the aspects of identity they want to talk about. Being transgender might come up in a discussion if they talk long enough, but it’s never because they don’t know their gender identity.
For people who may struggle with their identity, it’s because society has told them who they are from birth despite their internal sense of self saying something else. Reconciling the two is an act of courage, a trait we want in service members.
Further, an overwhelming body of research has shown how diverse teams increase performance. Our nation needs the perspectives transgender people bring to the fight. Amidst a recruiting shortage, with 1 in 5 members of Gen-Z identifying as LGBTQ+, how can we afford not to be inclusive? Brainpower is key to protecting America’s national security advantage. We can’t afford to turn away or fail to retain the minds that will ensure our edge.
Over the past two years, I’ve faced a number of health scares, including a rare cancer, and have had five surgeries. The Department of Defense fulfilled its commitment to service members in each of my health crises, returning me to duty in the best possible shape I could be. I shared the commitment, fighting through each one and returning to the mission as quickly as possible.
The last surgery was for gender-affirming care. For the other procedures, I was relieved and grateful when the doctors fixed something that had gone wrong. With the gender-affirming care, the doctors fixed something that had never been right.
For me, gender-affirming medical care feels like magic, akin to the care restoring vision or hearing. I saw and felt myself to be the person I’ve known myself to be; I imagine it was like seeing color or hearing music for the first time. I was back on duty more dedicated than ever and hope to serve many more years.
In 2023, the Army went back to ‘Be all you can be’ as a recruiting campaign and it’s hard to think of a group more obviously working to be the best version of themselves than transgender people. Our military needs their service.
When people don’t have to hide who they are out of fear, shame, or government-imposed sanction, they flourish. They spend their energy on their career, instead of wasting it on hiding their truth. Denying gender-affirming care only serves those who would vilify it out of self-serving interest, fear, or ignorance.
Bree Fram is an astronautical engineer active duty lieutenant colonel in the Space Force, a co-lead of the Department of the Air Force LGBTQ+ Initiatives Team, and a former president of SPARTA, a Transgender Military Advocacy Organization.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the views of the Space Force or the Department of Defense.
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