A Defense Department-funded study published Feb. 18 in the journal Sexuality Research and Social Policy has found that about 66 percent of active-duty soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines support the idea of serving alongside transgender personnel.
Breaking down data from nearly 500 responses, researchers found that across demographics ― regardless of ethnicity, sexuality or gender ― more than half of every group also supported allowing transgender Americans to serving in the military.
“Arguments against integration have been historically disproven through research examining the integration of women, racial/ethnic minorities and [lesbian, gay and bisexual] persons into the U.S. military,” the study authors wrote, comparing the transgender ban to past bans on service for other demographics.
On April 12, the Pentagon drew a line in the sand, barring any current service members from transitioning to their preferred gender, while banning any transgender recruits unless they submit to serving as their biological sex.
The policy is a complete reversal of Obama administration’s 2016 lifting of the ban on transgender service members, after which DoD rolled out policies allowing existing troops to serve openly and work out a transition plan with their doctors, if they chose.
In July 2017, President Trump sent out a trio of tweets announcing his intention to undo that policy, which went into effect nearly two years later, following multiple federal lawsuits and proposed bills in Congress.
The Pentagon commissioned the study to look at troops’ attitudes. From August 2017 to March 2018, researchers collected 486 responses, starting with seed service members who recruited their coworkers and acquaintances, then expanding the scope through advertising with popular military blogs and social media accounts.
They were asked, “Should transgender people be allowed to serve in the military?” and given the options of yes, no, unsure and decline to answer, with the “unsure” responses routed into the “no” results.
Participants ranged in age from 18 to 54 and were made up of 41 percent soldiers, 35 percent airmen, 14 percent sailors and 9 percent Marines. Of those, 57 percent of respondents were white, 60 percent were heterosexual and 66 percent were male.
Beyond that, 75 percent of women and 81 percent of gay, lesbian and bisexual respondents showed support, while heterosexuals polled at 56 percent and men at 62 percent, with black, Latino and white respondents at 69 percent, 75 percent and 64 percent, respectively.
Opponents of transgender service members have argued that their medical and psychological needs degrade readiness and unit cohesion ― particularly if they are diagnosed with gender dysphoria, a type of anxiety associated with feeling one’s mind doesn’t match one’s body.
A similar argument propped up the “don’t ask, don’t tell” ban on homosexual troops until 2011, though research post-integration has shown no measurable differences.
“For example, a study published just over one year after the repeal of DADT found no overall negative impact from the repeal on morale, retention, unit cohesion or readiness to serve, and instead found that the repeal enhanced the military’s capacity to pursue its missions,” according to the study, citing research published in the journal Armed Forces & Society.
That study found that being able to openly serve, without the pressure to hide identities, improved morale among troops and their units.
Last year, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives approved language in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act that would have reversed Trump’s policy, but it did not survive in the final, Senate-approved version enacted in late December.
House Armed Services Committee chairman Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., has vowed to revisit the issue in 2020.
“Even if we know (Senate Armed Services Committee chairman) Sen. Jim Inhofe and Donald Trump won’t change their minds, do we want to take another run at it and how?” Smith, told Defense News in December. “We’ll be discussing that with a lot of people.”
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.