DADT and the TAVA Survey Revisited

By Monica F. Helms

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has been in the news a lot lately. LGBT blogs are all a buzz with it and many straight media outlets can’t stay away. It’s the hottest thing since Mt. Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland.

Part of the discussion has to do with transgender people in the military and whether DADT affects them. Transgender people are not “officially” covered, a point made by retired transgender Navy veteran Autumn Sandeen when she handcuffed herself to the White House fence with five other LGB veterans in protest of DADT, back on April 20, 2010. She pointed out that even though “gender identity” does not appear in DADT, transgender people should still support our LGB brothers and sisters in the fight.

Of course, “unofficially,” transgender people have been part of the witch hunt since the law went into affect in 1993, except the military didn’t consider them “transgender.” They considered them all to be “gay.” To a military person who has no idea what gay really means, if a person wants to change their sex, they are all gay, no matter what their real sexual orientation really happens to be. To them, a heterosexual crossdresser is considered “gay.” The “heterosexual” part doesn’t matter.

For the longest time, transgender veterans knew that DADT affected them, and the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network actually helped some of them who got caught up under the law. I referred at least half dozen transgender service members to them myself. I am sure they have a list of how many they have helped, but I would not blame them for not revealing the numbers. Keeping DADT a gay-only issue is very important to them and to the repeal.

There had to be a way to prove to the world that transgender people had been discharged under DADT, even though it would still not allow gender identity to be added to the repeal. In December of 2007, the Transgender American Veterans Association started an extensive survey that ended two years ago this month. Three major universities and the prestigious Palm Center correlated the results from May to August of 2008. The proof lies in the results.

First, I need to provide a few statistics from the survey to lay the groundwork. One thousand and one people took the survey, but we needed to filter out only those who indeed identified as being transgender and veterans. The question we chose to filter was “Branch(s) of Service (You can select more than one.)” One hundred and seventy four people didn’t answer that question, leaving us with a total of 827 respondents that fit the parameters. We had 117 questions, but not everyone answered every question. That question they had to answer.

Interesting enough, 42 people took the survey while still actively serving in the military, ten of them in a combat zone. We also had four WWII veterans who took the survey.

One of the questions was “Time Served: (From: month/year to: month/year.)” Out of the 827 total, 794 filled this question out. Fifty eight of them gave us a length of service rather than the actual years, leaving 736. Out of that 736, 194 of them served during the time DADT has been in existence, which is 26.4%.

We also listed 17 forms of discharge a person could receive, one of them was: “Homosexual Conduct or “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Seven people picked that as the form of discharge they received, ranking the seventh most common discharge transgender people had received. Out of that seven, three of them didn’t serve during DADT, meaning that three trans veterans got kicked out for “Homosexual Conduct.” The remaining four did serve during DADT.

Four transgender people were kicked out under DADT. That is 2.1% of the number of transgender people who took the survey and served while DADT has been in existence. I can see the wheels turning in people’s minds on ways to discredit the results, but since this was an anonymous survey, no one needed to lie about their answers. On top of that, the Palm Center gave this conclusion after they correlated the survey results:

Transgender Service Members and the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Policy:

“A full 38% reported that when they were in the military, people suspected or directly asked if they were gay. In addition, 14% had been questioned by an officer about their sexual orientation. For younger respondents (aged 18-35), all of whom had served under DADT, this finding was even more pronounced: 61% reported that when they were in the military, people suspected or directly asked if they were gay; 20% had been questioned by an officer about their sexual orientation.”

What the survey also brought up was how disproportionate trans men are being targeted under DADT then their trans sisters.

“Such effects varied significantly by gender. Transmen were almost two times more likely to report they were suspected of being gay than transwomen (72% vs. 37%). They were three times more likely than transwomen to have been asked by an officer about their sexual orientation (33% vs. 11%).”

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell acted like a Category 5 tornado, indiscriminately sucking up victims as it went along. The commanding officers didn’t really care about the difference between trans people and gay people. All they wanted to do was to get the “perverts” out as quickly as possible, using whatever tool they had handy. To think that the military can see the difference would be giving them more credit than they deserves. After all, the term “Military Intelligence” still remains an oxymoron.

You can believe that trans people got kicked out of the military under DADT or not. That would be up to you. Arguing about it and trying to prove it never happened is a true waste of bandwidth. SLDN and those who did get kicked out under DADT know for sure. I doubt they will ever come forward, seeing that trans people like to remain silent. We must respect their wishes. The only thing I am now worried about is what will transgender service members do once DADT disappears and SLDN closes their doors? Who will be there to help them? Any lawyers wish to volunteer?

Monica Helms is the executive director of the Transgender American Veterans Association.



* TAVA And The Palm Center: A Look At Transgender Military And Veteran Experiences

* Autumn’s thoughts about community, activism, and the direct action with GetEqual at the WH today

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