OAH 2020 Abstract: Natalie Shibley, “The History of Legal Challenges to the Ban on Transgender Military Personnel”


Natalie Shibley is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Program on Race, Science, and Society at the University of Pennsylvania and an Affiliated Postdoctoral Fellow of the Penn Medicine and the Afterlives of Slavery Project. She is working on a manuscript about race, homosexuality investigations, and notions of disease in the U.S. military from the 1940s to 1990s. Her research has been supported by the ASLH’s William Nelson Cromwell Fellowship, the U.S. Army Military History Institute, and Cornell University Library, among other sources. The African American Intellectual History Society awarded her the DuBois-Wells Graduate Student Paper Prize in 2018. Natalie earned a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania, where she was the first recipient of a joint doctoral degree in Africana Studies and History.  Her paper, “The History of Legal Challenges to the Ban on Transgender Military Personnel” was scheduled to be part of the panel, “Queer Public Histories/Queer Public Service,” which was solicited by the OAH Committee on the Status of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) Historians and Histories.

Editor’s Note: As part of our coverage of the legal history scholarship that was scheduled to appear at the 2020 Annual Meeting of the Organization of American Historians, we are pleased to offer the following abstract.

Natalie Shibley

“The History of Legal Challenges to the Ban on Transgender Military Personnel”

The current ban on the enlistment of transgender people in the military has frequently been called a version of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy for trans service members. Like the homosexuality ban in place under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the trans ban has previously existed in different forms and been challenged in court by service members. This paper examines earlier iterations of the military trans ban and its opponents, focusing primarily on cases from the 1980s. The paper discusses medical disqualification of trans personnel in these early cases and the extent to which these rationales have persisted or transformed in more recent cases. It also considers the case of a soldier expelled from the Army after marrying a trans veteran, showing the entanglement of anti-trans discrimination with the homosexuality ban.

Press Briefing by Secretary Ash Carter on Transgender Service Policies in the Pentagon Briefing Room, June 30, 2016.