Beginning April 12, transgender individuals with gender dysphoria or who have initiated treatment or swapped genders will no longer be able to join the U.S. military, in most cases.
The Defense Department released a policy Tuesday that allows the roughly 1,000 existing transgender troops who have gender dysphoria or have transitioned to remain in the military and continue seeking career opportunities, such as promotions, advanced training, transfers and officer accessions. About 9,000 individuals identified themselves as transgender in a recent survey of active-duty troops, yet just 1,000 personnel have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria, Pentagon officials said Wednesday during a call with reporters.
Anyone with a history of gender dysphoria who wants to join the military will have to show they have been comfortable with the gender they had at birth for at least the past three years, have not undertaken any medical treatments to transition and are willing to adhere to the standards associated with their biological sex.
Individuals who currently have a contract with the military services but have not yet entered enlisted training or taken a commission are grandfathered under the 2016 policy, which means they will be allowed to serve regardless of a diagnosis of gender dysphoria and can pursue medical care for gender transition while serving.
DoD officials insisted Wednesday that the new policy does not bar transgender people from serving, adding that it only restricts individuals diagnosed with gender dysphoria. The American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines gender dysphoria as experiencing "significant distress and/or problems functioning associated with being uncomfortable with the gender they were assigned" at birth.
The U.S. military does not discriminate against transgender persons, one official insisted.
"This is not a ban on transgender individuals serving in the military. In fact, the policy actually prohibits the denial of accessions or involuntary separation solely on the basis of gender identity," the official said. "We realize not all transgender individuals have gender dysphoria."
Activists for the LGBTQ community, however, say the new policy will restrict troops' human rights and is comparable to the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy introduced under President Bill Clinton that allowed gay and lesbian personnel to serve as long as they didn't openly reveal their sexual preferences.
Before "Don't Ask Don't Tell" was implemented, homosexual troops were completely barred from military service.
"Today, the Trump administration has chosen prejudice and politics over the truth of open service. ... Even leaders who supported 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' at the time later came to believe that it had failed, harming readiness rather improving it. That will be the fate of this bigoted policy on transgender service as well," Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, an advocacy group, said in a statement.
Speaking against the policy, Rep. Jackie Speier, D-California, chairwoman of the House Armed Services personnel subcommittee, referenced President Donald Trump's medical condition that supported his deferment for the draft.
"These tough, brave service members have never used bone spurs as an excuse to dodge their duty and service to our country," Speier said. "We owe them our gratitude, not government-sanctioned discrimination. This policy is malicious, demeaning and destructive, and it does not serve our country's interests."
In July 2017 via Twitter, Trump announced that he planned to ban all transgender individuals from serving in the military. In response, then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis drafted a policy in February 2018 that limited the ban to those with gender dysphoria who need "substantial medical treatment."
The proposed policy remained on hold pending litigation and associated injunctions placed by courts to delay implementation. In January, the U.S. Supreme Court decided against hearing three cases filed over the policy, allowing several decisions by different U.S. Courts of Appeals to vacate the injunctions to stand.
In February, five transgender service members testified before Congress to protest the proposed policy, calling it discriminatory. They added that their military service should be considered on its merit, not on the basis of gender.
"All we are asking for is the opportunity to meet and be held to those exact same [military] standards," Army Capt. Jennifer Peace said during a House Armed Services Committee hearing.
DoD officials say they are simply adding gender dysphoria to the list of hundreds of medical conditions considered disqualifying for military service.
The conditions include physical disabilities and illnesses such as childhood asthma, diabetes and cancer, and mental health conditions including autism spectrum disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, eating disorders, depression and schizophrenia.
"Our accessions manual has 35 pages of conditions that presumptively disqualify people from military service. Gender dysphoria is no different," the official said, adding that those interested in serving can still apply for a waiver.
Roughly 7 percent to 8 percent of medical waivers are approved for new recruits each year, according to the DoD.
The policy also applies to U.S. Coast Guard personnel. According to the document, Directive-type Memorandum 19-004, Military Service by Transgender Persons and Persons with Gender Dysphoria, signed by Deputy Secretary of Defense David Norquist, the military services and the Coast Guard are allowed to grant waivers in individual cases and under no circumstances can a person who is exempt from the policy have their status revoked.