Statement: Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, implied on National Public Radio that gays, lesbians, hermaphrodites and transgender people are currently banned from serving in the military. In talking against the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” he said, “And I think that bond is broken if you open up the military to transgenders, to hermaphrodites, to gays and lesbians.”

Determination: Mostly True

Analysis: The purpose of this Fact Check is to evaluate how sexuality plays a role in determining who can currently serve in the military. We did not research how the landscape might change if the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy is eliminated by President Obama.

Under the current “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, gay and lesbian people can’t serve in the military if they openly identify their sexual orientation.

But what about hermaphrodites and transgender people?

First, let’s look at hermaphrodites, or “intersex” people, whose reproductive anatomy isn’t entirely male or female. (Advocates prefer the term “intersex” instead of “hermaphrodite,” which some consider to be outdated and stigmatizing.)

Generally, the military prohibits intersex people from joining its ranks, according to a 2007 report. The Army, for example, may disqualify people for having “major abnormalities or defects of the genitalia,” including some intersex conditions.

However, that doesn’t exclude the entire intersex population. Some people can be intersex without “major” abnormalities, or they can be unaware that they are intersex. They might only have the internal organs of the other gender.

In such cases, intersex people can get into the military “if they can pass as what we’ll call a ‘normal’ person, don’t need any sort of medical intervention like hormones, and who look, for all intents and purposes, like the sex they are,” said Tarynn M. Witten, an associate professor at Virginia Commonwealth University and author of the 2007 report.

As for transgender people, the military doesn’t accept those who are open about it, Witten’s report says. “Transgender” encompasses a variety of people, including those who undergo sex-change operations, those who dress as the opposite gender full-time but don’t have surgery, and those who cross-dress in their spare time.

In another example with the Army, people may be disqualified for previously having sex changes or engaging in “transvestism” or having gender identity disorder.

But private lives are different, Witten said.

“If you’re transgender, and by that what I mean you don’t identify as the gender you’re born with, but you haven’t done anything and you don’t tell them, you probably would be fine to serve,” she said, “but the minute you do anything, and by that I mean alter yourself or even cross-dress, you can be kicked out for being gay.”

(Transgender people aren’t all gay, however.)

OK, so a quick summary:

  • Gay or lesbian: Can serve but cannot be openly homosexual.
  • Intersex: Can serve in some cases, depending on medical condition.
  • Transgender: Can serve but cannot be openly transgender.


Summer Polacek

Summer Polacek was formerly the Development Manager at Voice of San Diego.

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