Sailors May Dress According to Preferred Gender While Off Duty, Navy Rules

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

With the upcoming April 12 start of a new Pentagon policy that will bar most transgender people from entering the military and restrict transgender medical transition for those not grandfathered in, the Navy has released additional guidance noting that sailors will be permitted to "live socially" in their preferred gender while not on duty, even if they must conform to the standards associated with their biological gender while in uniform.

"There is no policy that prohibits the ability of a service member to express themselves off-duty in their preferred gender," officials said in a recently released Navy administrative message. "Appropriate civilian attire, as outlined in the uniform regulations, will not be determined based on gender."

The guidance does add that deployed sailors may be restricted in off-duty attire choices "to meet local conditions and host-nation agreements with foreign countries" at the discretion of regional commanders and senior officers.

"All service members are expected to continue to treat each other with dignity and respect," the message adds. "There is zero tolerance for harassment, hazing or bullying of any service member in any form."

Officials have insisted that the Pentagon's new policy -- which was spurred by a series of tweets from President Donald Trump in 2017 -- does not constitute a ban on transgender individuals in uniform. However, it does restrict those who have not obtained a waiver by April 12 to serve in their biological gender only, and requires prospective troops with a history of "gender dysphoria" to verify that they have had 36 months of stability in their biological gender and are willing to meet the standards associated with it to enter the military.

The Navy and the Marine Corps, which both released additional guidance ahead of the new policy taking effect, did clarify that currently serving transgender troops who are deployed or otherwise hindered from getting a waiver by the deadline may submit an exception-to-policy request.

"This request must be routed to the commanding officer by the service member no later than 12 April 2019 and must contain a presumptive diagnosis from a provider (e.g., independent duty corpsman or civilian provider)," the Navy message states.

That request must then be forwarded with an endorsement from the service member's commanding officer and submitted up through the first flag or general officer in the chain of command.

Marines may obtain an extension via a request to the deputy commandant for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, according to a Marine administrative message. The request must include a presumptive diagnosis from a civilian medical provider or independent duty corpsman and include a commanding officer's endorsement.

The policy set to take effect aligns closely with a February 2018 memo to the president authored by then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis following a policy review of the impact of transgender troops on "readiness and lethality."

"In my professional judgment, these policies will place the Department of Defense in the strongest position to protect the American people, to fight and win America's wars, and to ensure the survival and success of our service members around the world," Mattis wrote.

Many in Congress, however, have been fiercely critical of the new policy, pointing out the honorable service of the estimated 9,000 transgender troops now serving and the relatively low cost to the Defense Department -- estimated at under $10 million -- of providing them with medical care to date.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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