Having won its battles on gays in the military and women in combat, and despite being engaged in heavy fighting in its attempt to rid the military of sexual assault, the New York Times editorial page opened another front on the military this morning, calling on the Department of Defense to allow transgendered individuals to serve openly. In its piece, the Times made the surprising claim that approximately 15,000 “now serving” in the military are closeted transgenders.
This statistic—which has been widely repeated by other news organizations citing the Times as their source—is surprising because, as of March, there are only 1,366,194 people on active duty military service in total. That would mean that, according to the Times, more than one percent, or more than one in every one hundred active duty military members, is transgendered. Including the numbers of those serving in the National Guard and the Reserves in the calculations, the ratio would drop to approximately one in two hundred, which would still likely be a revelation to those servicemen currently living in close quarters in their barracks, tents, and ships. To consider the surprising aspect of the number in a different way: 15,000 transgendered individuals would be enough personnel to form their own stand-alone infantry division.
What is the source of this statistic? A Times article that appeared earlier this week, reporting Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s remarks on the issue of transgendered people in the military, cites a study coauthored by former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders. The study claims even greater specificity, estimating that there are 15,450 transgenders in the military. The study makes it clear that its estimate refers to those serving on active duty and in the Guard and the Reserves, a fact which the original New York Times article made clear but that today’s editorial omitted.
What does the original study cite as its source? The relevant footnote reads: “See Gary Gates and Jody Herman (forthcoming). Transgender Military Service in the United States, Los Angeles, CA: Williams Institute. Drs. Gates and Herman are in the process of updating their calculations.” Gary Gates, the author of The Gay and Lesbian Atlas, and Jody Herman, co-author of Injustice at Every Turn, which was “based on the National Transgender Discrimination Survey conducted by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality,” are both scholars at UCLA’s Law School.