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Local reactions: Supreme Court to allow ban on transgender service members

W. Kenneth Medley II • Jan 27, 2019 at 12:21 AM

“Outrage,” Aislinn Bailey said.

That was the emotional reaction the transgender veteran had upon hearing the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision allowing President Donald Trump’s transgender ban to remain in place while the policy is under review in lower courts.

The ban is a reversal of an Obama administration rule to allow transgender service members, seeking to transition, to serve openly in the armed forces. The rule was met with immediate criticism in 2016 and became a target of Trump in 2017 on Twitter.

The president’s blanket ban on transgender service members in 2017 was blocked by injunctions in lower courts. Then-Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis revised the new policy to allow provisions for transgender service members. Personnel in service and deemed mentally stable can continue to serve.

Potential recruits are under more scrutiny under the Mattis memo. A recruit must have previously undergone gender reassignment surgery, pass a mental stability exam and provide months of documentation from credentialed mental health professionals, or agree to serve under the gender assigned them at birth.

“People don’t fully understand, so some of the terminology used was wrong,” Bailey said. “That is one of the things that I kind of clash heads with some in my community because I kind of see both sides of the issue.”

Bailey served in the Army from 1998 to 2003 as a 74C, telecommunications Operator/Maintainer. During her time in the military she was also a recruiter. Her time as a recruiter jaded her opinion toward military entrance.

“I have seen people put in the military that absolutely, if you went by the regs. (regulations), should not have been recruited,” said Bailey. “I have seen a 1st Sgt. issue an order to a recruiter telling them to lie to get somebody in the military.”

Bailey believes the mental health stability requirement is too stringent and not feasible. She believes that this requirement comes from a stigma attaching gender dysphoria to mental illness. Bailey said a person with gender dysphoria is not necessarily suffering from a mental illness, like depression, PTSD or suicidal tendencies.

The Department of Defense website for Transgender Policy has not been updated since 2016. When you visit the site, there is a warning at the top stating that the page is archived material. This makes information hard to come by when searching for the current policy directing entrance of transgender service members.

East Tennessee State University’s ROTC declined to comment about the policy change.

“We are not allowed to comment either way,” said Angela Haire, executive aide, when asked if the Supreme Court decision would affect any current ROTC cadets at ETSU.

In a statement released Tuesday following the decision by the Supreme Court, Air Force Lt. Col. Carla Gleason, a Pentagon spokeswoman said, “The department is pleased with the orders issued by the Supreme Court today.”

Gleason went on to state that the Department of Justice is working to resolve pending litigation with current transgender service members, some of whom may be discharged.

“As always, we treat all transgender persons with respect and dignity,” Gleason said. “DOD’s proposed policy is not a ban on service by transgender persons. It is critical that DOD be permitted to implement personnel policies that it determines are necessary to ensure the most lethal and combat-effective fighting force in the world.”

Many military veterans attend classes at ETSU. One such veteran who recently separated from the U.S. Army struggles with the idea of transgender service members.

Lee Sullivan, an ETSU student and veteran said, “I sat through the General Military Training concerning Obama’s Administration policy change. The biggest problem in implementation was defining transgender. The public and DoD training differ in that definition.”

Sullivan describes himself as Libertarian and stated that he struggles between being fiscally responsible and socially liberal.

“If gender reassignment surgery is requested while in service it can hurt unit readiness; having a service member down for an extended period of time,” said Sullivan. “Fiscally, I do not believe that should be a DoD expense.”

Sullivan made no comment as to whether a service member who has undergone gender reassignment surgery and is designated mentally stable should be allowed to serve.

The James H. Quillen VA Healthcare System at Mountain Home hosts a support group for transgender service members and veterans on the second and fourth Tuesday of every month.

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