New Pentagon Transgender Enlistment Ban Takes Effect

In this Sunday, June 11, 2017, file photo, Equality March for Unity and Pride participants march past the White House in Washington. Carolyn Kaster/AP
In this Sunday, June 11, 2017, file photo, Equality March for Unity and Pride participants march past the White House in Washington. Carolyn Kaster/AP

The Trump administration's policy prohibiting most transgender individuals from entering the military went into effect on Friday following a court ruling last month that removed the final barriers to enforcement.

The new policy comes nearly two years after President Donald Trump announced his plan to ban transgender troops on Twitter.

During a briefing with reporters, Pentagon officials said that the new policy grandfathers in transgender troops and those diagnosed with gender dysphoria, and any person with the diagnosis already under contract to enter the military.

Those members fall under a more permissive policy created under then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter in 2016, and they will not be kicked out, said Tony Kurta, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Military Personnel Policy. That policy ordered the services to prepare to allow openly transgender people to enlist and serve in their preferred gender, provided they met all existing standards.

"For those who want to join the military, a diagnosis of gender dysphoria is presumptively disqualifying under the new policy just as it is and was under the 2016 policy," Kurta said Friday.

Those already grandfathered in will not be barred from reenlisting in the future, he said.

Under the new policy, those who identify as transgender must demonstrate "stability" in their biological sex for 36 months and meet all deployability standards. They must not have transitioned to the gender they identify with and must be willing to serve in the standards and norms associated with their biological gender.

Future diagnoses will be treated on a case-by-case basis, Kurta said.

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Those who do not meet the Pentagon's standards will be referred to a disability review board, where they may be recommended for medical or administrative discharge or early retirement. That includes individuals who are deemed by medical professionals to require surgery.

But "no actions will be taken solely based on gender identity," Kurta said.

During a months-long legal battle, the Pentagon has repeatedly stressed that "all individuals will continue to be treated with dignity and respect."

DoD previously estimated it had fewer than 9,000 active-duty service members who identify as transgender, based on a 2016 workplace survey.

From new data assessed in February, officials estimate that DoD now has roughly 1,400 service members who identify as transgender or have been recently diagnosed with gender dysphoria, Kurta said.

"Those 1,400 are in varying stages of their treatment," he said.

Kurta said "less than 10" are currently undergoing the gender reassignment process.

"Gender dysphoria is a very complicated condition" Kurta said, justifying why military medical providers and behavioral counselors are and have been involved in the process.

"Everyone's medical treatment is different. [But] we provide all necessary treatment to those in uniform," he said.

When asked whether the Pentagon is asking its behavioral health counselors to discourage individuals from transitioning in order to meet the department's readiness goals, Kurta said choices are being presented to individuals who exhibit gender dysphoria.

"We have not had any evidence of that ... [but] it is incumbent under the new system, with someone diagnosed with gender dysphoria, that we do need to lay out to them what the consequences of some of that treatment are," he said.

The review comes following recent court ruling that removed an injunction preventing the Trump administration from putting its transgender ban into place.

The Supreme Court had already allowed the ban earlier this year.

U.S. District Judge George Russell III wrote in March that there cannot be special rules for transgender people wanting to enlist or become officer candidates in Maryland, The Washington Post reported at the time.

Kurta said that the reason for the new transgender policy was not precipitated by Trump's tweet in 2017 but rather by service secretaries raising concerns to then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis about readiness stressors.

"That occurred prior" to Trump's tweet, Kurta said. He could not speak to what each of the branches concerns were.

Many lawmakers, transgender troops and former Defense Department officials took to social media Friday to condemn the new policy.

"Discriminatory & intolerant #TransMilitaryBan goes into effect today," wrote former Navy secretary Ray Maybus on Twitter. "The American principle has always been [about] what you can do, not who you are. Implementing this policy erodes our democracy & seriously weakens our military. Proud to #SupportTransTroops."

"This is not just an LGBTQ issue or a military issue. This is a human rights issue," tweeted Rep. Donald McEachin, a Democrat from Virginia. "Last month I proudly voted for HRes 124 to oppose and lift the #TransMilitaryBan. Today the ban goes into effect but we will continue to #FightTheBan and #ProtectTransTroops."

OutServe-SLDN, an LGBTQA civil rights and activist groups that represent members of the military called the action a setback for not just LGBTQA troops, but for all service members.

"This is a heartbreaking setback to the progress our community has achieved over the last decade. #TransMilitaryBan #SupportTransTroops #WeGotYour6," the group said. "We will continue to fight for open and authentic service."

The Pentagon will review the policy again in two years' time, Kurta said.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @oriana0214.

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