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Pentagon to Release Decision on Transgender Troops by February

In this July 29, 2017 photo transgender U.S. army captain Jennifer Sims is silhouetted on a balcony after an interview with The Associated Press in Beratzhausen near Regensburg, Germany. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
In this July 29, 2017 photo transgender U.S. army captain Jennifer Sims is silhouetted on a balcony after an interview with The Associated Press in Beratzhausen near Regensburg, Germany. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

A decision on the fate of currently serving transgender service members will be issued by late February, the Pentagon's top officials said in a memo publicly released Monday.

Until then, the memo states, those troops can continue to serve openly and even re-enlist.

The memo, signed by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, was sent to Defense Department officials Sept. 14.

It blocks officials from discharging troops for being transgender before a final decision is released. It also continues a ban against new troops who have a history of "gender dysphoria," the clinical term for those with a transgender diagnosis.

The policy was issued even as legislation to block the DoD from kicking out transgender troops was introduced by four senators, including former prisoner-of-war Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, who had previously opposed transgender service or benefits. McCain chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"Any member of the military who meets the medical and readiness standards should be allowed to serve -- including those who are transgender," he said in a statement.

Officials with the American Military Partner Association (AMPA) last week joined a lawsuit that seeks to immediately halt any steps from the Pentagon or the Trump administration that may lead to the removal of transgender troops.

The suit, filed by Lambda Legal, a non-profit firm that focuses on LGBT issues, and the OutServe Service Members Legal Defense Network (SLDN), represents nine transgender individuals and three organizations, including AMPA.

"Any qualified and willing American, regardless of their gender identity, should be able to serve the country they love," AMPA President Ashley Broadway-Mack said in a statement Monday. "We believe that in the end, justice will prevail over President Trump's unconscionable transgender military ban."

The Lambda Legal and Outserve-SLDN suit, along with three others, was filed after President Donald Trump in July surprised both lawmakers and the Pentagon with an announcement via Twitter that the federal government "will not accept or allow" transgender troops "in any capacity" in the military.

That tweet was followed in late August by a White House directive instructing the Pentagon to declare an indefinite ban on new transgender troops, halt sex change operations, and produce and implement a policy on currently serving transgender troops no later than March 23, 2018.

-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at amy.bushatz@military.com.