U.S. airmen changing genders can now seek temporary exemptions from gender-specific physical fitness tests, uniform requirements and bathrooms, according to a new policy.
The Air Force detailed the changes in a guidance, "Air Force Policy Memorandum for In-Service Transition for Airmen Identifying as Transgender," released Oct. 6 by Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James and Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein.
"This is another step in allowing transgender Airmen to serve openly, receive medical care relating to gender transition and allow transgender individuals to join the Air Force," James said in the release. "Our strengths as a military are the quality and character of our people, and those things that make us unique are the same things that make us strong."
While the rules -- which are already in effect -- deal with accessing and retaining transgender airmen, they also specify the circumstances in which recruits would be disqualified from serving, such as those diagnosed with gender dysphoria who haven't been medically cleared as stable for at least 18 months.
Transgender airmen undergoing cross-sex hormone treatment may request an exemption from taking the physical fitness assessment, or PT test, "during their period of transition, prior to a gender marker change in the MilPDS," according to the memo.
However, airmen must first provide evidence of a documented PT failure, with their commander authenticating how the airman made a full and clear effort to meet the PT standards of their current gender.
The inputs will make their way through the appropriate chain of command, and the Service Central Coordination Cell at Air Force headquarters -- the assisting body providing input on medical and legal transgender issues to service leaders -- before Air Force headquarters makes a decision.
In addition, airmen must maintain a healthy lifestyle; participate in unit PT, if applicable; and work with their commander to meet Air Force standards.
Transgender airmen may submit an Exception to Policy, or ETP, to adhere to their preferred gender's dress and appearance standards prior to their official gender marker change in MilPDS.
"Until an ETP request has been approved, transgender Airmen must adhere to their current gender's dress and appearance standards as reflected in MilPDS," the memo states.
"The request will require supporting justification, an assessment by their immediate commander, and further recommendations by their chain of command" before being approved by Air Force headquarters, it states.
Airmen should meet the service's standards for appearance and, unless exempted, use lodging appropriate for their pre-transition gender, according to the guidance.
Transgender airmen will use military lodging, bathrooms and shower facilities associated with their gender marker in MilPDS and/or the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System.
If airmen have requested an ETP, they will use the facilities associated with their gender marker in MilPDS/DEERS until an ETP is approved or their gender is updated in MilPDS/DEERS.
After their transition is marked complete in the Military Personnel Data System, members can use the facilities and clothing appropriate for their new gender. Under the policy, certain specifications for transgender airmen are subject to commander approval, or higher.
A military medical provider (or approved civilian equivalent) in coordination with a Medical Multidisciplinary Team -- a variant of health care professionals with specialized skills and expertise -- will determine when a transgender airman's gender transition is complete.
The airman will then need to present legal documentation, such as a U.S. passport or court order, to show his or her preferred gender transition is complete.
The airman may still undergo additional hormone therapy even after the transition has been marked complete, the guidance said.
As long as they are medically qualified, transgender airmen can deploy.
Earlier this year, the Air Force stipulated that a transgendered airman may not be involuntarily separated, discharged or denied re-enlistment or continuation of service solely on the basis of his or her gender identity.
A ban on openly serving transgender troops was lifted by Defense Department officials in June, and the services will allow transgender individuals to join the armed forces no later than July 1, 2017, assuming they meet accession standards.
The Air Force policy states potential airmen are disqualified from joining the service if they have gender dysphoria or are undergoing medical treatment associated with gender transition and/or sex reassignment or genital reconstruction surgery, unless a licensed medical provider can certify the airman is stable and can function in a military setting, or a period of 18 months has elapsed since the date of the most recent surgery or since they have been stable in their preferred gender.