Trump administration's controversial transgender military policy takes effect

The Pentagon’s policy barring most transgender people from serving in the military unless they serve under their biological sex took effect Friday as advocacy groups blasted the Trump administration for moving forward with the controversial measure.

“That the Trump administration has pushed so hard to be allowed to implement this baseless, immoral and un-American ban is nothing short of shameful,” Jennifer Levi, transgender rights project director at GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), said in a statement Friday.

“As of today and until this policy is overturned, transgender people are barred from service, regardless of their qualifications and ability to meet military standards,” she added.

In response to the criticism, the Pentagon reiterated its insistence that the new policy is not a ban.

"I would reiterate that the department will continue to treat all individuals with dignity and respect, and every service member is able to express their gender identity," Pentagon spokeswoman Jessica Maxwell said in an email Friday. "DOD will take no action solely based on gender identity." 

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Transgender troops have been serving openly since the Obama administration lifted a previous ban in 2016.

But in July 2017, President TrumpDonald John TrumpFlorida GOP lawmaker says he's 'thinking' about impeachment Democrats introduce 'THUG Act' to block funding for G-7 at Trump resort Kurdish group PKK pens open letter rebuking Trump's comparison to ISIS MORE tweeted he would “not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military.”

Four lawsuits against the ban followed, and courts issued injunctions in all four cases that prevented the policy from being implemented.

But those injunctions have since been lifted, paving the way for Friday’s policy change.

Under the new policy, outlined in a March memo, currently serving transgender service members or anyone who has already signed an enlistment contract can continue to serve openly and receive medical care.

But transgender individuals who join the military going forward will have to serve in the gender they were assigned at birth. Anyone diagnosed with gender dysphoria will not be allowed to enlist unless a doctor certifies they have been stable in their biological sex for 36 months.

Also, anyone serving now who receives a gender dysphoria diagnosis after Friday will fall under the new rules.

"Those diagnoses will be dealt with on an individual basis," Maxwell said. "If a service member can continue to meet all standards, including deployability standards and all those associated with their biological sex, [they] can continue to serve without a waiver."

Troops diagnosed with gender dysphoria can be discharged if they are “unable or unwilling to adhere to all applicable standards, including the standards associated with their biological sex,” the March memo says.

Ahead of Friday's implementation, the Pentagon has been educating the force on the new policy by distributing fact sheets to military medical providers, service members, applicants, commanders, recruiters and human resources, Maxwell said.

The Pentagon denies the policy is a ban because of the carveouts for currently serving transgender troops and transgender people willing to serve in their biological sex.

But transgender service members and their advocates argue it effectively is a ban akin to the defunct “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that banned open service by gay, lesbian and bisexual people.

“In implementing ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ for transgender troops today, the Trump administration has put petty politics above military readiness, and personal prejudice above the genuine judgment of military leaders, who have made clear that inclusive service has succeeded for the last three years,” Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, said in a statement. “The transgender ban won’t stand for long.”

Ahead of the implementation, the American Medical Association (AMA) reiterated that the country’s largest medical organization has found there is “no medically valid reason” to restrict service based on a gender dysphoria diagnosis.

“The only thing deficient is any medical science behind this decision,” AMA President Barbara McAneny said in a statement Thursday. “The estimated 14,700 transgender military personnel are qualified and willing to serve. Rather than stigmatizing and banning these patriots, DoD should let them serve.”

While courts lifted the injunctions against the ban, they did not rule on the underlying merits of the cases. As such, the four lawsuits against the policy are proceeding.

“A country that turns its back on the very individuals who are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to defend it has lost its moral bearings,” Shannon Minter, legal director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), said. “As we continue to fight this discriminatory policy in the courts, we also call on Congress to do its part to put an end to it as quickly as possible.”

NCLR and GLAD are co-counsel on two of the lawsuits against the policy.

Lambda Legal, which is leading another of the lawsuits alongside OutServe-SLDN, said transgender service members have made “incredible sacrifices while fighting for each and every one of us.”

“For almost three years, transgender men and women have been serving openly and honorably in all branches of our nation’s military,” Sharon McGowan, legal director and chief strategy officer at Lambda Legal, said in the statement.

“Transgender service members have volunteered to defend a Constitution that hasn’t always lived up to the promise of equal protection of the law, but they continue to serve because they believe in what this country can and should be, and we believe in them," she added.

Updated at 3:33 p.m.