Lifting the U.S. Military Transgender Service Ban: Lessons from the IDF


In September 2011, U.S. military policy finally caught up to current scientific views and repealed its military policy of banning LGBT members from service. Despite these forward strides, the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) did not end the prohibition on transgender service in the U.S. military. This is because the military medical code still labels “transsexualism” and “transvestism” as disqualifying “psychosexual” conditions for military service, although finally that will be changing with the Pentagon’s announcement that it will be lifting its ban on transgender military service. For those with any doubts that this was a good decision they have only to look to Israel.

Chris in Afghanistan in gear

(Kristin Beck serving in Afghanistan as Chris Beck in the U.S. Navy SEALs)

Israel is one of the United States’ closest allies and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is considered by many as one of the fiercest and best-prepared militaries in the world. The IDF has faced decades of serious threat from neighboring countries, fought in numerous wars and border skirmishes, and routinely runs security operations in the Palestinian occupied territories. Because of the constant threat to Israeli security, the IDF is required to be in a constant state of readiness.

Yet, the IDF has for more than a decade allowed transgender service with no apparent loss of military readiness. In 2014, my Israeli colleague, Reuven Paz and I, with funding from the Palm Center, conducted interviews to examine the practice of allowing transgender individuals to serve in the Israeli military and compare how the IDF’s stance toward transgender service is nearly the polar opposite of the U.S. military’s stance.

Our report, based on six in-depth interviews of experts on the subject both inside and outside the IDF: two in the IDF leadership—including the spokesman’s office; two transgender individuals who served in the IDF, and two professionals who serve transgender clientele—before, during and after their IDF service gave insights into how the IDF deals successfully with transgender individuals. In our interviews we found that the effects of allowing transgender service in the IDF had no negative effects upon military unit cohesion, morale and military readiness and we made recommendations for how the U.S. military may be able to benefit, as Israel has, from accepting transgender service.

We found that the IDF’s policy reflects a much more accepting cultural norm toward gender identity differences, demonstrating both the willingness and successful accommodation of transgender individuals. Since 1998 transgender individuals have been successfully serving in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Up until recently transgender persons could opt out of enlisting or be discharged simply on the basis of being transgender, with the excuse of psychological distress. Now however, being transgender has become such a non-issue in the Israel Defense Forces that everyone who is drafted—no matter what their gender identity issues are—is expected to serve.

Transgender issues and the need to transition are accommodated inside the IDF sensitively and without compromise to military readiness, morale or unit cohesiveness. Clearly the IDF, one of the fiercest and most capable militaries in the world, has found solutions to the transgender service issue that the U.S. military might also want to consider. Therefore we were pleased to learn this week that the U.S. military will soon also lift its ban on transgender service. It’s about time.

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. is Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University in the School of Medicine and of Security Studies in the School of Foreign Service. She is author of Talking to Terrorists and Bride of ISIS and coauthor of Undercover Jihadi and Warrior Princess: A U.S. Navy SEAL’s Journey to Coming out Transgender. Website:

0 Warrior Princess Front Final Cover

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s