Editor's note: The following is an opinion piece submitted to Military Times in response to a recent report, "Transgender troops in limbo as Pentagon debates policy."
Military Times' recent Andrew Tilghman's excellent story about a transgender soldier offers important insight into the issue of inclusive military service, particularly by showing that many commanders want to support the transgender members in their units but are hampered by bad policy.
The story, however, references ends up parroting a common talking point used by of opponents of inclusive military service that has been repeatedly proven incorrect: that equal treatment is somehow complicated. "Many key questions remain," the story says writes, and the issue "raises a host of medical issues."
This depiction overlooks a key point about transgender military service: As research and experience have shown, inclusive policy is not complicated, and the relevant questions about it already have answers.
While open transgender service may feel like new territory to some, the truth is that trans identity is just one among hundreds of medical issues that already have solutions in place.
Who will decide whether trans people receive medically necessary care? The same people who decide whether anyone receives medically necessary care.
How will the military decide whether trans people get time off for transition-related treatment? Use existing policy on medical leave.
How to decide who is fit to deploy or operate military aircraft? Apply the same standards that already exist.
Claims of "complexity" come from an unwillingness to apply the same rules to everyone, perhaps out of fear that transgender members would actually meet them, undercutting the presumption of difference. It is this belief that transgender people are "other" that creates the urge to develop complicated sets of distinct rules for trans and non-trans members.
Of course that would be complicated. But we know from in-depth scholarly research as well as the experiences of 18 foreign militaries and U.S. federal agencies — all of which allow transgender personnel — that to be transgender is simply to require the same treatment as everyone else — including getting adequate medical care and enjoying the dignity and respect that are known to help all people to thrive.
Our military already has the tools it needs to treat trans people equally. Separate rules for transgender troops would be completely unnecessary and counter-productive, and endless debate is being used to stonewall the achievement of simple equality.
Belkin is director of The Palm Center, an independent research institute whose work has focused on sexual minorities in the military.