An Indian Navy man was sacked from service recently for undergoing a sex change operation. The sailor, Manish Kumar Giri, is now identified as Sabi. The Navy released a statement on Monday stating the sailor was discharged from duty on account of going through irreversible sex-change surgery and thus fully altering the gender to which the sailor was recruited. The Navy said that the action violated recruitment regulations and hence the sailor was removed with ‘Service No Longer Required’ orders.
The current regulations disallow continued service of a Navy sailor after gender change, negative alteration in medical condition or other restriction related to employability. India is part of a majority group of countries that doesn’t allow gender reassignment during service. While the fundamental rights guarantee equality for all despite sex, the forces are empowered to recruit on the basis of gender and change to gender changes the conditions of recruitment. However, there are countries that allow personnel to go through gender reassignment and continue service.
Transgenders are essentially those people who don’t identify with the gender assigned to them at birth. Some of them go through with sex change surgeries, hormone treatment and other procedures to change the physical features of their body to reflect their gender identity.
A number of countries have come to acknowledge the issue of transgender troops or administrative staff in armed forces and allowed provisions for sex change.
There are at least 19 countries currently that allow transgenders to serve in the Armed Forces. These countries are The Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Australia, Canada, Israel, Czech Republic, UK, France, Germany, Estonia, Finland, Belgium, Austria, Spain, Thailand (administrative staff), Bolivia and Argentina. The Netherlands was the first country to legalise employment of transgenders in the armed forces back in 1974 while Bolivia was the most recent to allow it in 2010.
The UK armed forces promise complete inclusiveness and has allowed LGBT personnel to serve openly since 2000. In 1999, a fighter pilot of the Royal Air Force became the first individual to undergo sex change and serve in the UK defence forces. The criteria for service is the same where each person is required to qualify the mental and physical standards. If an individual undergoes a transition, then he/she is, from then on, treated as a person of the acquired gender. A formal network is present in the army to ensure transgender soldiers receive proper advice and support (mental and medical) for issues affecting their daily lives. One of the riders is that for legal recognition in the desired gender, one has to first live in that gender for at least two years.
Israel allowed all individuals from the LGBT community to serve in the military openly in 1993. Former transgender soldier Shachar Erez went on to become one of the leading international advocates of transgender rights for members of the defence forces. Israeli army funds sex change surgeries for individuals who wish to go for the procedure.
Canada brought an end to LGBT ban on personnel in the military in 1992. It accepts individuals of all orientations and gender identities. A legislation passed recently also outlaws discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression. It also provides support to LGBT individuals to help them come over medical, psychological struggles, gender dysphoria including via medical help. The Canadian military also funds sex change surgeries of personnel.
Australia removed the ban on transgenders to serve in the armed forces as recently as 2010 although it had removed the ban on homosexuals back in 1992. After 2010, there has been a debate in the country on whether the government should pay for sex change surgeries of transgender troops. However, a sex change surgery doesn’t qualify as grounds to discharge a soldier from service. The Australian Air Force has even released guidelines and advisories for people undergoing sex change and other personnel to help and support their colleagues.
The Dutch defence services were the first to open the gates for LGBT individuals and allow them to serve openly back in 1974. The move led to establishing a military support group for the LGBT personnel. With its ‘Do Tell’ programme, the Dutch military actively organises pride parades and events and reach out programs to recruit the best soldiers irrespective of gender identities, expression or sexual orientation. The Dutch military funds sex change procedures for personnel.
In 2014, the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies (HCSS) ranked New Zealand’s military as most friendly towards the LGBT community in its report 2014 LGBT Military Index. However, serving personnel are allowed to go through with the procedure. It also runs one of the most comprehensive support programs for inclusive support called Overwatch. The program caters to the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Questioning (GLBTIQ) personnel, their family, friends and colleagues.
According to HCSS, the gender law in Argentina provides power to individuals to change their official gender without taking any approval from a judge or doctor, even without undergoing a surgery. This allows military personnel to express their gender identities and to go through with sex change without any fear of being discharged.
The Scandinavian country’s military personnel are allowed to go through sex change procedures and a 2008 legislation against discrimination protects those that go through sex change.
Bolivia outlaws any form of discrimination and allows LGBT personnel to serve in the military and legally change their gender. It also allows them the right to go through sex change and legally change gender.
The country is the permanent home of NATO and allows all LGBT personnel to openly serve in the military. It also allows personnel to go through with sex change and provides help via a number of support programs.
One of the most powerful countries in Europe, Germany removed the restriction on LGBT personnel to serve openly after 1990. The country allows legally changing the gender and the military allows sex change to personnel opting for it. They are then treated with their newly acquired gender.
Austrian military allows LGBT personnel to serve openly. Between 1983 and 2009, the personnel, like every Austrian, could change their gender legally but they had to go through a surgery and get a doctor’s certification. This caused gender expression impediments for those who didn’t want to go through the surgery. After a legislation change in 2009, Austria now allows individuals to legally change their gender without undergoing any surgery.
The country in 1999 gave full rights to LGBT communities to serve in the military including sex change.
The Nordic country was the first to legalise same sex marriages and is similarly progressive in allowing military personnel to go through sex change procedures. Nevertheless, it was only in 2014 that Norway removed the mandatory requirement for sterilisation after sex change before being legally recognised with the newly assigned gender. As of now, individuals can undergo sex change legally with or without undergoing surgery. These rights are guaranteed to every Danish citizen including serving personnel and they can not be discharged for the same.
In 1981, Norway became the first country to ban discrimination against LGBTs in employment. The military allows sex change and runs several support programs for the personnel undergoing surgical and/or judicial sex reassignment.
Finland set up legal standards for sex change in 2003. The military allows also removed mandatory sterilisation requirements after a European Human Rights Court ruled against the requirement in April this year.
The country which formed out of the USSR openly allows LGBT personnel to serve. But similarly to the UK, individuals have to live for two years in the desired gender before they are legally recognised.
The European Court of Human Rights in France’s Strasbourg ruled in April 2017 that the sterilisation requirement for legally changing gender present in 22 European countries violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the countries were directed to immediately remove such practices.
The Iberian country allows individuals to change their gender legally with or without going through gender reassignment surgery. LGBT personnel are free to serve openly in the Spanish military and serving personnel can go through surgical or non-surgical transition without any riders.
The southeast Asian country finds the last mention in the list since it allows LGBT individuals to serve in the defence services but only in the capacity of administrative staff or other positions of non-combatant nature.
Major countries Against transgenders working in military
US, Russia, China, India, Japan, Brazil etc
The US government under former president Barack Obama allowed transgender troops to serve in the armed forces and fund sex change for those suffering from gender dysphoria. However, the Trump administration has explicitly declared that transgenders will not be allowed to work in the armed forces in any capacity. The strongest military in the world has turned insular to the idea of inclusiveness citing tremendous medical costs to support such procedures which would also weaken it.
According to HCSS, the US is part of the majority group of countries that are against transgenders serving openly. These countries, including India, currently do not allow transgenders to openly serve in the military and go through with sex change procedures. They are also joined by the likes of Russia, China, Japan etc.