Fighting the Ban on Transgender Military Service

UPDATE: On April 12, 2019, the ban on transgender members of the military has been reinstated, reversing the 2016 policy permitting servicemembers to serve openly, regardless of their gender identity. Openly transgender servicemembers face bars to reenlistment, promotions, job assignments, and potentially discharge. New recruits who are openly transgender are barred from enlistment or commissioning in the military. This impacts an estimated 13,000-15,000 currently serving troops, and the families who rely on them. It further sends the message to veterans and their families that the service and sacrifices of transgender veterans and their families is unrecognized and unappreciated. NYC Veterans Alliance renews its commitment to ALL those who have served our nation in uniform in opposing this ban and advocating to ensure all who serve receive the honor, recognition, services, and benefits they have rightfully earned. 


As implementation of the ban approached, NYC Veterans Alliance pressed Governor Cuomo to make every effort to prevent discharges of New York National Guard troops and provide support to any servicemembers, veterans, and families who might in any way be impacted by the implementation of a discriminatory policy. Based on these recommendations, on April 12, Governor Cuomo took action to direct the Division of Military and Naval Affairs, the Division of Veterans' Services, and the Division of Human Rights to provide all necessary services and resources to transgender service members who are impacted by the new policy.

"While we wish Governor Cuomo would state his intent to halt discharges of any New York State troops under the federal ban, we strongly applaud his actions and statement of support for transgender servicemembers, veterans, and their families," said U.S. Army Veteran and Founding Director Kristen Rouse. "This ban represents the dark cloud of discrimination descending upon our entire military and veterans community, where even those not immediately impacted by new restrictions may still feel shaken in their sense of safety and well-being, or that their service to our nation is unrecognized or unappreciated. We must do all that we can to ensure that no servicemember or veteran is discriminated against on the basis of their core identity." 

On Saturday, April 13, NYC Veterans Alliance mobilized locally-based organizations and officials to rally against the ban on transgender service at City Hall Park. The rally was co-sponsored by: Minority Veterans of America, OutServe, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Veteran Advocacy Project, Transgender American Veterans Association, Service Women's Action Network, The Steven A. Cohen Military Family Center at NYU Langone Health, Military Resilience Foundation, TransMilitary, and Advocacy & Services for Aging LGBT Elders (SAGE). The rally and recent advocacy efforts have been supported by a Rapid Response Grant from North Star Foundation. We also wish to thank the NYPD's 1st Precinct for providing guidance, permitting, and security for the rally. Remarks at the rally include the following:

JENNIFER LONG, U.S. Army Veteran, recipient of the Bronze Star Medal, French National Defense Medal, and Combat Infantry Badge, among numerous other awards and decorations:

"Today, with an all-volunteer military, the requirement of inclusiveness, if anything, is greater because the force size, the mix of specialties, will require servicemembers and leaders who will be able to operate in any political, cultural, or environmental climate around the world. These patriots have served, and will continue to serve our nation with honor and distinction in many of the most demanding, dangerous, and most technically skilled jobs in our military. We need every qualified servicemember who is willing and able to serve. Imposing barriers that prevent capable people from enlisting and serving is not only wrong, but weakens our military."

SHAWN SKELLY, retired U.S. Navy Commander and first openly transgender veteran to serve in a presidential administration:

"I was good at my job… which is the only metric, the only standard that matters when it comes to our men and women in uniform in defense of our nation. That’s what the pioneers, the heroes who have been serving the last few years as out and open transgender servicemembers, with courage and honor in doing their jobs, have done. They have proven, as testified to by the five military service chiefs, that there is no degradation of readiness. There is no degradation to unit morale or unit cohesion…. Out transgender people can and do serve successfully on behalf of our nation. The next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest ranking uniformed person, said there have been precisely zero problems."

CAMDEN ADOR, U.S. Navy veteran and visual artist: 

"Understand that the military is the number one employer of trans people, that taking that away leaves an estimate of 7,000 active duty members and 4,000 reservists without jobs. Understand that there have been multiple studies showing minimal impact on budget and overall military readiness and the reality of this ban has nothing to do with that but everything to do with bigotry of this administration. Understand that military service is a chosen career just like a doctor or teacher, and by implementing his ban we have asked people to choose between that or living their life authentically, remaining in hiding like the woman I met suggested, or living their truth. I personally cannot wrap my head around staying in the military under an administration that is done nothing but try to eradicate me. I don't know if that makes me selfish, but I know that wanting to stay makes them selfless. So, understand that trans service members just want to be the best they can be just like any other humans."

JEREMY BUTLER, U.S. Navy veteran and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America:

"This isn’t simply a question of human rights, national security, medical costs, unit cohesion, or political correctness. It’s about fighting for what should be a simple American right: the right to allow anyone who is willing to put their life on the line in the defense of this country to be able to put on the uniform and do so. And to do so openly and proudly. Just as IAVA fought to end the policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” we are firmly standing behind fighting this misguided policy to ban transgender servicemembers from serving openly in the armed forces."

CHRISTOPHER SCHMITT, U.S. Army veteran and Staff Attorney at Veteran Advocacy Project:

“Every person who raises their hand and swears to protect this nation deserves our respect and deserves our gratitude. This ban seeks to replace that gratitude with the denial of the very equal rights and equal protections that our armed forces fight to protect. It is a policy that is entirely based on unacceptable, prejudicial attitudes against trans individuals. The Veteran Advocacy Project will continue to fight for the rights and protections of trans individuals, trans servicemembers, and trans veterans—including by zealously opposing this ban. To be clear, our opposition is not based on politics. It is about the very heart and soul of this country’s ideals. It is about respecting the dignity of every servicemember, and it is about justice. And in the end, justice will prevail.”

DR. AMANDA SPRAY, Clinical Psychologist and Clinical Director at The Steven A. Cohen Military Family Center at NYU Langone Health:

"We are vehemently opposed to the ban on transgender individuals serving in the military. It is discriminatory and detrimental to the mental health of trans individuals, but also any American who values core American principles like fairness and equality. Too often we see veterans in our clinics who have served in times of war and peace who are forced to hide their identities out of fear, or violence, or harassment, or possible expulsion from the military. Discrimination based on one’s gender identity or gender expression can result in anxiety, depression, even PTSD. Substance abuse in these individuals is not uncommon. The current ban sends a very harmful message to trans veterans and current active duty military members because it suggests that their service to their country is unvalued and unwelcome. The ban also has a grave impact on military families that are dependent on these servicemembers for economic security, amongst other things. We professionals at the Cohen Military Family Center at NYU Langone believe that transgender Americans have the right to serve along with their cisgender compatriots. We implore the current administration to reconsider this discriminatory action and encourage all who care about the well-being of our veterans and active duty servicemembers to raise your voices in support of equal rights for transgender Americans to serve their country."

SUE FULTON, U.S. Army Veteran, Leadership Team of SPART*A:

These servicemembers are not victims, but they are burdened. Burdened by an administration that is trying to define for us who ‘real’ American are. They’re trying to say that ‘real’ Americans aren’t trans, that ‘real’ Americans aren’t gay, that ‘real’ Americans aren’t Muslim, that ‘real’ Americans aren’t brown or black, that ‘real’ Americans aren’t Democrats. But Americans aren’t defined by race, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Americans are not defined by ‘blood and soil.’ Americans are defined by a commitment to the ideals of this country, to loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, personal courage. To liberty and justice for all.

PAM CAMPOS, U.S. Air Force veteran and Activist: 

We are in a battle for the soul of our nation. We are seeing in this moment who gets to be an American, and who does not. Who gets to be a patriot, and who does not. Who gets to have community, dignity, and humanity, and who gets that stripped away. All of us are showing up here today to say: that is not the world we are building together, that is not what we are going to stand for. This morning I was thinking about that day in the summer of 2017, that horrific day when one Tweet went out that decided so many people’s lives…. I will never forget those people that just wanted to be seen, and to be helped. It is on all of us to show up whether you’re directly affected or not. We cannot lose this battle. The battle continues. People are depending on us. It is a life or death situation that we are facing right now, and it is on all of us to make the decision whether we’re going to answer that call. History has shown us where this road of institutionalized discrimination leads. Apathy kills. Bigotry kills. Cowardice kills. And we need to be on the right side of history. I say today: end the hypocrisy. If you are a politician that says you stand with the military and with veterans, but yet you are willing to erase our trans family, you don’t serve me. You don’t serve all of us. If you come for one of us, you come for all of us.

MICHAEL BURTEN, U.S. Marine Corps veteran, speaking on behalf of U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY):

"It is an honor to send greetings to all present at today's rally. Yesterday, President Trump's ban on transgender military service members went into effect. There are now service members who will be forced to leave the military for no reason other than who they are. This blatantly discriminatory policy does nothing to enhance military readiness or promote national security. Rather, it is a brazen attack on the rights of courageous and patriotic transgender Americans who volunteer to serve in our armed forces. Officials from every branch of our armed forces have testified before Congress that transgender service members are currently serving without any issues. Despite baseless claims to the contrary, there is no evidence that transgender service members somehow harm unit cohesion, discipline, or morale. This unjust and unnecessary ban needs to end immediately in order to allow all service members the opportunity to continue their service with the dignity and respect they deserve. I thank you all for joining me in this fight for justice, and hope that you will continue to make your voices heard until all qualified Americans have the right to serve in our military."


"I think it’s so important in times like these that all New Yorkers, all Americans, from every background, from every ethnicity, from every religion, from every political persuasion stand up and speak out against injustices when we see them. Against bad policies, against discriminatory policies that divide our country and divide us from our fellow New Yorkers and fellow Americans. The ban that went into effect yesterday is a national disgrace, and I am calling on other people of my own party to stand up to the president when he is wrong. On this issue he is downright wrong. When people take the oath of office, yes, we say we are going to uphold the Constitution of the United States. But we are also supposed to take that oath to give a voice to people who feel like they don’t have one. To stand up for people in the shadows. To stand up for people who feel discriminated against. The trans community in this country has been disrespected by their government…. I want to say thank you for your service, thank you for your bravery, thank you for what you’ve done for our country, for me and my family, for what you’ve done for this city. I want to let you know that we are going to stand up for you."

GLOMANI BRAVO-LOPEZ, U.S. Marine Corps veteran, speaking on behalf of NYC Council Member Steven Levin (D-BROOKLYN): 

"We stand in solidarity with our trans siblings in arms to say we are here with you, we are here for you…. We want to make sure the message is strong that when it comes to serving downrange, it does not matter one’s gender, one’s orientation—what matters is that we are there for one another. No matter what messages this administration put forward, we’re going to stand together with one another to convey the message that we are united together through this, thick and thin."

JEFF ROTH, U.S. Army veteran, Deputy Commissioner of the NYC Department of Veterans' Services:

"The ban on transgender troops is appalling, it is a disgrace, and it should never, ever have come to pass. President Trump’s rationale for the ban on transgender troops, two things: ‘costs,’ and ‘disruption.’ Neither of these points are supported by evidence…. When the Pentagon lifted the ban on transgender troops in 2016, they based the decision in part on a study by RAND, which said the costs associated with transgender troops is miniscule, around 0.04%. President Trump has called for a 10% increase in overall military spending, so what ‘costs’ are we talking about? The ‘disruption’ argument is also wrong. The same argument has repeatedly been used throughout history to justify discrimination: when African Americans were integrated in the forces in 1948, when gay Americans were allowed to openly serve in 2011, and when women were allowed to serve in combat roles in 2013. Mr. Trump, can you think of nothing more original, please, than ‘disruption’? Our military is stronger when all of Americans are serving. The reality is, the more diverse and inclusive the military, the better our soldiers rate in both performance and readiness. President Trump’s ban moves America in the wrong direction. It is a retreat from basic human rights. There are now 18 militaries across the globe where transgender troops serve openly, including our close allies: the U.K., Canada, Israel, Australia. Not a single one of them has found a problem in terms of costs or disruption. The United States should be leading the way on inclusion and diversity, not retreating. New York City is leading. It is the first major city with its own agency dedicated to veterans. The rest of the country is watching what we say and do here. New York City is fighting for veteran rights—the New York City Human Rights Commission established veterans as a protected class, ensuring that they’re not discriminated against. What we’re doing for veterans here in New York City we should be doing for troops across the country: defending those who protect this nation, not discriminating against them. The decision to ban transgender troops is both fundamentally un-American and unconscionable…. The Department of Veterans’ Services stands with all of you today in solidarity, for every American who has raised his or her or their right hand to serve in uniform. We will do whatever it takes to fight for their right to serve their country without discrimination, and with the honor and respect they have earned."

Past Efforts: Every move toward inclusion in the U.S. military has met with political and social resistance, even from veterans' organizations. Whether it was racial desegregation, integration of women, or repealing "don't ask, don't tell"--controversial moves toward inclusion of qualified servicemembers have nevertheless made our nation's military stronger and more inclusive of our nation's richly diverse talent, perspectives, and skillsets. Ensuring that qualified transgender troops can continue to serve in the military is no less controversial--and no less critical. A founding principle of the NYC Veterans Alliance is that all service matters. We are proud to stand again for our transgender brothers and sisters in arms to serve openly in the military.

In the summer of 2017, we spoke up against the proposal of a ban on transgender service.

In November 2018, we were part of an amicus ("friend of the court) brief alongside Service Women's Action Network, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, High Ground Veterans Advocacy, Protect Our Defenders, National Veterans Legal Service Program, and the National Law School Veterans Clinic Consortium in support of transgender troops as part of the legal battle against discrimination in a case that made its way through the DC Court of Appeals, but ultimately lost. The amicus brief can be viewed HERE.

In February 2019, NYC Veterans Alliance signed on as an endorsing organization for U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy's resolution (H.Res.124) condemning the ban on transgender service; the resolution passed by overwhelming bipartisan vote 238-185 on March 28, 2019, as tangible evidence that a majority of Americans oppose this hateful policy.

In March 2019, NYC Veterans Alliance rallied on the steps of City Hall alongside Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, Council Member Kallos, Council Member Gjonaj, and community partners to oppose cuts to veterans' services in New York State and New York City, and also to voice opposition to the ban on transgender military service. In recent weeks, NYC Veterans Alliance has met with numerous Council offices, urging legislators to pass Resolution 142-2018 introduced by Council Member Dromm in opposition to the federal ban on transgender military service. 

“Our nation cannot afford to turn away talented, capable Americans from military service at a time when we most need them," said Founding Director Kristen Rouse. "Right now, thousands of transgender men and women are serving honorably and capably in the U.S. Armed Forces, and countless more transgender veterans have proudly served our nation, many of them with honor and distinction in combat. We want these servicemembers and veterans to know that we stand with them, and that we are grateful for their service to our nation. We likewise stand in full support of offering qualified transgender individuals the opportunity to serve our nation. Out of many, we are one. Equality is not a social experiment. It is a core value we serve to protect and defend.” 

A comprehensive study by RAND on transgender personnel serving openly in the U.S. military is HERE