As the Department of Defense scrambles to develop a policy that fits President Donald Trump’s surprise tweeted ban on transgender people serving in the U.S. military, it’s worth asking: Where do transgender troops serve now around the world, and how have they impacted their home nations’ readiness?
It turns out there are 18 or 19 countries, depending on your criteria, that permit transgender individuals to serve, according to a 2014 report by the Netherlands-based Hague Centre for Strategic Studies (HCSS). Each policy varies, of course: Thailand, for instance, limits jobs open to transgender service members, while Belgium mandates that trans people undergo surgery so their body “conform[s] with conventional ideas of what a male or female human body looks like” — and also requires they be sterilized, according to HCSS.
Nevertheless, a lot of nations — many of them strategic U.S. allies — allow transgender military service… and several of them are trolling the bejesus out of Trump’s snap decision on a wholesale ban. Here’s a little bit about them:
Our neighbor to the north took to Twitter to contrast its military gender identity policies with President Trump’s ad hoc ban on transgender service:
— Canadian Forces (@CanadianForces) July 26, 2017
According to the CBC, Canada’s chief broadcast news service, 19 Canadian service members “completed sex reassignment surgery between 2008 and 2015 for a total cost of $319,000” — about 25% less than a helmet for a single F-35 pilot costs the U.S. military.
2. The United Kingdom
Great Britain’s commanders just straight-up trolled America yesterday over Trump’s tweets:
— Alex Burton (@RAdmAlexBurton) July 26, 2017
— Second Sea Lord (@VAdmJWoodcock) July 26, 2017
The main commander of Britain’s combat ground forces, Lt. Gen. Patrick Sanders, has personally taken up the fight to ensure full rights of LGBT soldiers in the service. Currently, the UK expects transgender enlistees to “have have finished transitioning before they are allowed to serve,” according to HCSS. Sanders — a veteran of Iraq, Afghanistan, Northern Ireland, and the Balkan conflict — has said that “only if individuals are free to be themselves can we release the genie of their potential, for the greater good.”
That said, the British military has more or less avoided the debate over paying for troops’ gender reassignment surgeries. U.K. law requires citizens to live two years in their “acquired gender” before being eligible for official recognition and enlistment.
Service in the Israel Defense Forces is pretty much a given for any able-bodied Israeli citizen — which, since 1993, includes LGBT people like Lt. Shachar Erez, pictured at the top of this post, whose gender reassignment surgery was funded by the service. Full integration of the ranks certainly hasn’t put a crimp in the small but insanely well-armed (thanks, USA!) nation’s operational tempo.
This Anglophone nation, which may be closest to the U.S. in terms of social policy, is surprisingly more liberal on gender identity in the military. Australia, which opened its ranks to gay and lesbian service members in 1992, took until 2010 to permit transgender service. But since then, “the Australian Air Force has published guidance on how to improve the inclusion of transgender personnel who are transitioning while serving,” HCSS reports.
5. New Zealand
Not to be outdone by the Aussies, the kiwis’ military is ranked by HCSS as the most LGBT-friendly in the world. Some of its strongest athletes are transgender, too.
According to HCSS, Argentina’s gender law is “the most inclusive in the world, as it allows individuals to change their official gender without the approval of a judge or doctor, and without surgery.” After a sordid 20th century history of repression, military rule, and brief war with the U.K., Argentine forces are primarily used for humanitarian assistance and peacekeeping now.
While the small South American nation wasn’t considered progressive on gay and trans rights until very recently, it opened the armed forces’ ranks to LGBT people in 2015.
The permanent home of NATO and fellow victim of Islamist terror attacks openly permits LGBT people to serve, though with the very strict caveats mentioned above.
Historically Roman-Catholic and a hotbed of nationalist and conservative sentiment, Austria nevertheless opens its ranks to all LGBT individuals. The broad policy makes sense, given that “all male Austrian citizens between the ages of 17 and 51 are subject to compulsory military service,” according to the Austrian Embassy in Washington.
10. Czech Republic
Not content to be renowned for its beer and literature, the Czech Republic extended full military service rights to LGBT people in 1999.
The first nation to recognize same-sex unions, Denmark allows open LGBT military service — but took until 2014 to remove a sterilization requirement for citizens changing genders.
Keeping up with its Nordic neighbors, Sweden has extended full protection from discrimination to all LGBT people in its military ranks since a legislative reform in 2008.
Norway, the first nation to bar anti-LGBT discrimination in employment practices in 1981, is predictably pretty chill about transgender service in its armed forces.
The Finns were out front in admitting gays in the military in 1981; transgender rights took a little longer, establishing legal standards for gender transitioning in 2003.
The former Soviet republic permits full military service by LGBT people — although, like the U.K., it also requires transgender individuals to live for two years in their desired gender before securing legal recognition.
16. The Netherlands
The Dutch military was the first to go on record not only permitting LGBT troops in 1974, but encouraging pride in their identities. Seriously, here’s a big military float in an Amsterdam pride parade:
Solidly Catholic, formerly fascist, Spain has come a long way — it opened the ranks to LGBT people in 2005, and several groundbreaking cases since then have further liberalized the nation’s armed forces integration efforts.
The rising leader in continental and trans-Atlantic politics has liberalized its military in stages since the fall of communism. LGBT people were first allowed to enlist in 1990, and were first allowed to pursue commissions in 2000, according to the CBC.
Thailand isn’t included on many people’s lists because, frankly, it’s got some problems. On surface, its policy is to permit transgender service in the military’s administrative and other rear-echelon departments. But the nation’s universal male draft has caused problems for some transgender women, who’ve been called in for conscription in humiliating form.