12 November 2012
During the Presidential campaign, I wrote about how Voter ID laws were a hindrance to transgender people. This is particularly true for those who are in the early stages of their transition: They may be living completely or part-time in the gender of their minds and spirits but do not yet have ID to reflect their identities. Some haven't yet changed their names; others live in places where they can't change their names, let alone the gender designation on their drivers' licenses or passports, without having gender-reassignment surgery.
For all the attention I paid to the issue, I still can't believe I missed another, related, issue. It also has to do with identification and vital records.
Since Veteran's Day is being commemorated today, you might have guessed that it has something to do with military records. If you did, you're right. Specifically, it has to do with form DD 214: the document uniformed members of the Armed Forces receive upon their discharge or retirement from the military.
"You have to produce it for almost everything you do in life," says Bridget Wilson. She is an attorney who has been representing transgender people in military and civilian matters for two decades. She explained that that veterans have to show their DD 214s when they apply for college or to take the exams for law or other professions. They also need it when they apply for jobs with large employers, some of whom get benefits (or simply "brownie points") for hiring veterans. Military retirees also must have the form in order to provide their dependents with medical benefits or to access some of the privileges, such as shopping on military bases, the had when they were on active duty.
Nearly all of the 300,000 transgender veterans underwent their gender transitions after leaving the military. This means their DD 214s show the names and genders by which they were identified when they were in uniform. The Department of Defense treats the form, and other documents as "historical records," which means that military officials aren't allowed to change the information of them.
The result is that transgender veterans are routinely turned down for services and, of course, can't use their status as veterans when they apply for jobs and colleges. According to Wilson, it would take only Defense Secretary Leon Panneta's signature to change the situation.
As Wilson said, the issue may exist simply because "it wasn't on the radar" of Defense Department officials. One reason for that is that most transgender veterans have transitioned in recent years and, even a decade ago, the numbers of trans veterans weren't as great as they are now. However, as the situation of transgender veterans becomes better-known, there may be reluctance to change among those same officials--in part because transgenders still can't serve in the military, even after the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
After all, isn't everyone who served entitled to the same benefits?