If--and it’s still a big if, with a welter of court cases expected--President Trump’s tweeted diktat that transgender people will no longer be allowed to serve in the US military becomes law, the move will prove to be an astonishing act of national self-harm.
Trump’s briefly stated argument suggested that the presence of transgender troops in a military setting would render the army less capable of focusing on “decisive and overwhelming victory” because of the “tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”
However, the experience of many other national armies that explicitly allow transgender troops flies in the face of Trump’s assertions.
From Canada to the U.K., from Sweden to Australia, trans troops occupy both entry-level and senior positions, and many of them have won the admiration and respect of their colleagues for their professionalism and bravery.
The Canadian military was quick to respond to President Trump’s announcement that transgender people would be banned from the US military, with a tweet from the Canadian armed forces’ official Twitter account including a photo of military band members marching in a parade with rainbow flags fluttering from their instruments.
Canada ended its ban on LGBT personnel in the military in 1992 and has several prominent transgender military heroes who speak openly about their life as transgender people in the military to help rise awareness and acceptance.
One of the most celebrated is Cpl. Vincent Lamarre, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, who was assigned female at birth. Lamarre was deployed to southern Afghanistan’s Panjwaii region in 2010, driving a truck supplying gasoline, ammunition and food down a hazardous highway, through enemy terrain.
By 2016, Lamarre had become the first Canadian soldier to fully transition.
Canada’s most senior transgender soldier is Lt.-Cmdr. Nicole Lassaline.
She told a 2014 conference that many of the perceived barriers to accommodating trans people in the military are easily resolvable.
She said: “One of the things people always say is, ‘Oh, transgender people, oh my! How do you deal with bathrooms?’ How much does it cost to put a curtain in a shower cubicle?”
Another vocal advocate for trans rights in the Canadian military is Cpl. Natalie Murray. Murray, who began her transition in 2003, was deployed to Bosnia. She has been a member of the Canadian Armed Forces for 27 years and is a radar technician.
The British Army is one of the most trans-friendly in the world. It was named on UK gay rights advocacy group Stonewall’s Top 100 Employers 2014 list, and the Ministry of Defense has frequently demonstrated its support for trans rights, at one point declaring: “The Armed Forces want to represent the breadth of the society we serve and we support all of our personnel, including those considering gender reassignment, by offering them the appropriate level of care and advice.”
The policy has seen a 24-year-old transgender soldier become the first woman to serve on the front line with the British Army, even though women are not generally expected to be enrolled in front line combat roles until 2018.
Chloe Allen, from Cumbria, joined the Scots Guards in 2012, began hormone therapy, and changed her name in 2016. Guardsman Allen (the title is non-discriminatory), who had official documents changed by deed poll from her birth name of Ben to reflect her new name and status, was allowed to stay in the infantry as a woman.
Warrant Officer Class 2 Deborah Penny was the first soldier to have transition from male to female to serve in a warzone (she served in Afghanistan in 2014) in British Army history.
The bomb disposal expert has served in the Army for 30 years.
A high-ranking Army source told the Daily Mail: “Debbie is working in a male orientated world and has shown courage in deciding to change her life in such a dramatic manner and still pursue her career in a macho world.”
In 2008 Jan Hamilton became the first UK officer to complete gender reassignment from male to female.
Sweden was one of the first nations in the world to actively allow LGBT people to serve in its military, and states as a matter of policy that it works for an environment where individuals do not feel it to be necessary to hide their sexual orientation or gender identity.
One of the most prominent advocates for trans rights in the Swedish Armed Forces is Major Alexandra Larsson, an intelligence officer at a fighter squadron, who gave a memorable Ted Talk on her personal journey. After fellow soldiers discovered her identity on online blogs, she came out and helped found the first LGBT network in the Swedish army. She lives in Stockholm and is currently Tech Lead for the Concept System for Intelligence & Security in the Armed Forces.
Major Donna Harding joined the Australian reserve forces in 2000 before entering the regular army in 2004. She has said that she "lived under the constant anxiety and fear that someone would find out my secret." She said that joining the Australian army was a bid to try to suppress what she had known from an early age.
"It's quite a common pathway for people who are gender conflicted, trying to fix what we see is wrong with us, and see the military as the way of doing that," Major Harding said at a conference organized by the ACLU.
Lieutenant Colonel Cate McGregor is the highest ranking person serving in the Australian Defense Force. She is also a well-known cricket writer.
New Zealand's military was ranked the most inclusive in the world according to a 2014 report on LGBT military personnel from The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies. In 2012, the New Zealand Defense Force created OverWatch, a program designed to provide support to LGBT personnel.
Sergeant Lucy Jordan is believed to be the first person in the New Zealand Defense Forces to transition while serving. She praised the support given by her commanding officers at the time, saying: "What my organization gave me, and what we are doing here, is primarily about investing in the most important thing that an organization has: its people."
Israel has consistently demonstrated a supportive attitude to transgender troops, allowing them to serve since 1993. The most senior trans soldier is Shachar Erez, the first transgender officer in the IDF.
He has been an important advocate for transgender rights for military personnel. Erez travelled to Canada in April 2017 and met with senior Canadian Forces officials to discuss Canada's policies on transgender issues in the military.
Erez, 23, came out as transgender when he was 16 to friends and family but only came out to his fellow soldiers at the end of his commander’s course, two years after beginning his army service. He was the first transgender person to become an officer in the IDF. The IDF paid for hormones and treatment.