In the United States we’re just now struggling to overturn a ban on gay, bisexual and lesbian people serving in the military, but Australians won that battle almost two decades ago.
But the repeal of Australia’s ban only said that service members couldn’t be discharged due to their sexual orientation. Australia’s military still kept a ban on transgender service members.
Recently, an individual servicemember decided to transition genders. An Australian referral service that assists LGBT service members, called DEFGLIS, helped the service member and advocated for reform.
Cue a decision by Angus Houston, Chief of the Defense Force, revoking Australia’s ban on transgender servicemembers on Monday. The Australian Defense Force (ADF) was the last government agency in Australia that was firing employees for being transgender — so now, at least in theory, transgender people in Australia shouldn’t face any employment discrimination from the government.
The policy won’t officially take effect until December. Until then, Houston asked commanders to be more understanding of transgender service members. He instructed that commanders “manage ADF transgender personnel with fairness, respect and dignity… and ensure all personnel are not subjects to unacceptable behavior.”
Australia is far from the only country with military discrimination against transgender service members. Medical discharges for transgender service members has become standard since the DSM III included gender identity disorder in 1980.
And discrimination against transgender people is still commonplace outside the government. But isn’t it amazing that a military policy barring transgender servicemembers was repealed because of one service member who wanted to transition? Houston’s actions also highlight that it is possible to change the situation before new policies are in place, showing respect for transgender servicemembers through his instructions to military commanders.
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