Metro Weekly

U.S. Selective Service Says Trans Women Must Register for Draft

The statute governing Selective Service registration relies on a person's assigned sex at birth, and can only be changed by Congress.

U.S. service members – Photo: Scandinavian Backlash, via Unsplash.

The U.S. Selective Service says that transgender women must still register for the military draft, regardless of whether they have transitioned.

According to the Selective Service website, “U.S. citizens or immigrants who are born male and changed their gender to female are still required to register.”

Because only people assigned male at birth are required to register, transgender men no not need to register for the draft upon reaching the age of 18.

While the policy is not new, it has been highlighted after the Selective Service tweeted at parents on Friday to remind them to have their children register for the draft. That tweet then linked to the Selective Service website clarifying the Biden administration’s stance on transgender individuals registering for the draft.

“Parents, if your son is an only son and the last male in your family to carry the family name, he is still required to register with SSS. Learn more about who needs to register,” the original tweet said.

While the policy of having all males who reach the age of the majority register for the draft has been in effect for decades, the White House last year suggested that all Americans should be included in the draft, reports Fox News.

“The administration supports section 513 and the registration requirement for all citizens, which further ensures a military selective system that is fair and just,” the White House said last year when Congress considered, but ultimately did not pass, a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act that would have required women to register for the draft. President Biden ultimately signed the defense spending bill, without that requirement.

That same year, President Biden also repealed a Trump-era policy seeking to bar transgender individuals from serving in the Armed Forces, arguing that allowing transgender troops to serve in the U.S. military does not detrimentally impact morale, effectiveness, or unit cohesion.

Despite the current “open service” policy that allows transgender individuals to serve in the military, social conservatives and right-wing media outlets have seized on the Selective Service’s tweet to bolster arguments that transgender women are not women and to justify denying recognition of transgender identity.

As reported by The Washington Times, U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) gleefully pointed out the discrepancy between President Biden’s support of pro-transgender positions on other topics and Selective Service, which does not acknowledge a person’s gender identity.

“Trans women (also  known as men) will be forced to sign up for the draft,” she tweeted. “Looks like Joe Biden has just officially confirmed what a woman is and what a woman isn’t.”

Other online users also pointed out the discrepancy.

“When they need you to go to war, the U.S. government acknowledges that a person can NOT change sex,” one user tweeted.

The Selective Service System noted on its website that legal authority requiring American adult males to register for the draft is based on the Military Selective Service Act of 2003.

“Selective Service interprets the MSSA as applying to gender at birth because Congress did not contemplate transgender persons or a person’s gender identity when it required ‘males’ to register when the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 was passed and amended by the Selective Service Act of 1948 to create the Selective Service System,” the website states in a section entitled “Who Needs to Register.” 

“Until Congress amends the MSSA or passes a separate law addressing transsexuals and gender identity, Selective Service must follow the intent of Congress when it required only males to register — the registration requirement is based on gender at birth,” the website continues. “In the event of a resumption of the draft, individuals born male who have changed their gender to female can file a claim for an exemption from military service if they receive an order to report for examination or induction.”

Transgender advocates acknowledged the flaws in the registration requirement, calling on Congress to change the statute.

“The Selective Service System was established in 1917 to administer the draft and maintain an updated database of potential service members in times of no draft,” Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in an emailed statement to Metro Weekly. “It was meant to be a simple system in which men registered and women were exempt. This thinking, however, largely fails to account for the transgender experience.

“The federal government should either phase out the Selective Service System altogether or — as the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service recommends — make it gender neutral,” Heng-Lehtinen added.

SPARTA, a nonprofit organization representing transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming service members, told Metro Weekly that legislation is needed to update existing statutes to reflect current understandings of gender and gender identity.

“In the nearly twenty years [since the passage of MSSA], we have changed,” Alleria Stanley, the acting director of communications for SPARTA, said in an email. “We have grown as a society and increased our awareness of the diversity of our population in many forms.”

She added that while there have been “some feints” at updating the MSSA to require people of all genders to register for Selective Service, members of Congress have chosen to spend their energy and time emphasizing other legislative priorities. 

“It is likely, I suppose, that given how far in our past the most recent draft was, our everyday societal awareness that there even is the Selective Service is small. Thus, the tweet from the SSS. It is crucial for persons to still register, in accordance with the law as written, as there are consequences for failing to do so, including access to benefits such as financial aid,” Stanley told Metro Weekly. “Updating the MSSA will be part of continuing comprehensive pushes for codifying diversity and inclusion for transgender persons throughout our society and military.”

Support Metro Weekly’s Journalism

These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!