April 4, 2019 / 3:17 AM / 3 months ago

Top Democrat calls transgender limits in U.S. military an 'act of cruelty'

WASHINGTON, April 3 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Banning new transgender troops from serving openly in the United States armed forces is an “act of cruelty”, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Wednesday, after a screening of the documentary “TransMilitary” on Capitol Hill.

Pelosi, a longtime champion of LGBT+ rights, called out supporters of the new limits, scheduled to come into force on April 12.

“These people are going to be relics in the dustbin of history, they just don’t know it,” Pelosi said.

“To them it’s inconceivable, to us it is inevitable. So we have to shorten the distance between the inconceivable to some and the inevitable to us.”

The Democratic speaker then turned to U.S. Army Captain Jennifer Peace, one of the central figures in the documentary, and thanked her for telling her story.

“Thank you for shortening that distance,” Pelosi said.

The documentary follows U.S. transgender service members as they perform their duties and fight for their right to serve openly as members of the gender they identify with.

Over the course of the film, they fight for recognition, which they get in 2016 under President Barack Obama, only to then lose it again in 2017 after President Donald Trump announced he would overturn Obama’s decision via Twitter.

Elements of the legal battle that followed Trump’s decision are also covered in the documentary.

The new Department of Defence policy that will come into effect in just over a week is not a complete blanket ban.

It allows those currently serving openly to remain in the armed forces, but will not permit openly transgender people from joining the military, nor allow those already in service to begin transitioning gender after April 12.

“Technically, you can be transgender, just like you could have been gay as long as no one ever found out under ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’,” Peace said at the panel discussion that followed the film.

Before gay men and women were allowed to serve openly under Obama, the military’s policy made it illegal for officers to ask troops if they were gay, and as long as gay troops didn’t reveal the information, they could stay.

Estimates vary widely on how many people the transgender ban would effect. The film’s producers claim there are 15,500 transgender troops.

A 2017 RAND Corporation study using a complex formula put the number at 2,450 in active duty in U.S. forces. Another 1,510 were estimated to be in the reserves.

The number on active duty in the U.S. military is 1.3 million. More than 800,000 serve in the active reserves, according to the Pew Research Centre. (Reporting by Jason Fields; Editing by Michael Taylor; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)

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