Canada Issues Dress Rules for Military Transsexuals

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday December 8, 2010

The United States continues to struggle with the issue of allowing gay and lesbian patriots to serve their nation in uniform. Meantime, much of the rest of the Western world has moved on. Case in point: Canada not only allows gays and lesbians to serve, but now has a dress code for transgendered servicemembers who are transitioning.

A Dec. 8 article in Canadian newspaper the National Post reports that, according to a supplement to a military manual, Canadian servicemembers have a right to dress according to their gender identity. They are expected to dress in the manner of what the supplement calls their "target gender," the article says. The supplement was sent to servicemembers via email.

"This is an important step towards recognizing a community that has always struggled for equal rights and basic human protection," the head of the Canadian branch of Parents and Friends and Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), Cherie MacLeod, told the media.

But the supplement ruffled feathers, because it came in the wake of a report that asserted that the Canadian military is not doing enough for the families of troops killed in action overseas. The article cited Scott Taylor, who publishes the military publication Esprit de Corps. Taylor said that the two documents appearing so close to one another "couldn't get much worse" in terms of "timing," and added, "It's so removed from what the guys are facing over in Afghanistan." The article indicated that Taylor that the issue of supporting the families of servicemembers killed in action "doesn't really relate to dress codes of the transgendered."

It is also a relatively rare occurrence for a Canadian servicemember to transition, the article said, noting that only "one or two of [the national Defense Department's] troops [go] through sex changes a year."

But the supplemental instructions were necessary to deal with those rare instances, according to Defense Dept. spokesperson Rana Sioufi, who told the media that the military "must recruit, house, clothe, train and deploy its members. This requires clear direction and standardized instructions to deal with individuals who may not fall into the generally accepted gender categories."

The new regulations specify that transgendered troops are to be treated with "utmost privacy and respect," and recognizes what health experts have to say: transgendered individuals have a deep-seated sense that they belong to the gender other than the one they were born to. Living as the "wrong" gender can make transgendered individuals more likely to suffer mental stress and depression.

The article noted that the Canadian military provides medical support for troops in transition from one gender to the other, and has done so since 1998.

That does not mean that transgendered individuals are universally embraced within the ranks of the Canadian military. One transwoman, Cpl. Natalie Murray, told the media that her superiors sought to get her discharged as she was transitioning from male to female.

"They try and turn things around and invent an excuse so they can get rid of you, and they almost succeeded, but fortunately cooler heads way up high prevailed," Murray said on a CBC radio program. "There shouldn't be any issue at all. We're just regular people doing a regular job, the same job as everybody else."

Although the United States military, unlike the Armed Forces of our Western allies, continues to bar service by openly GLBT individuals, transgendered federal employees now enjoy a degree of protection under policies put into place by the Obama administration after a decorated veteran planning to transition was denied employment at the Library of Congress.

Diane Schroer was a top candidate for a position at the Library of Congress, but she was denied the job late in the hiring process after revealing that she was transitioning from male to female. Schroer sued, and the case drew headlines. The case was settled in Schroer's favor; she was awarded half a million dollars in back pay and damages. In the process, she disproved the theory offered by her former prospective employer that by becoming a woman she would lose the trust and confidence of her colleagues in the military.

To the contrary, media reports noted, Schroer's military peers stood by her unflinchingly. Her victory was hailed as a landmark in the progress for full equality for transgendered Americans.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.