Pentagon report: Military has considered two waivers for transgender troops since ban started

Pentagon report: Military has considered two waivers for transgender troops since ban started
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Three transgender U.S. troops have been to subject to processing for involuntary separation and two have been considered for waivers as of February under the Trump administration’s transgender military policy, according to a recent Pentagon report to Congress.

The report also says no waivers have been denied, nor has anyone been discharged as of February.

The report, a copy of which was obtained by The Hill, prompted a letter from 12 House Democrats to Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden to update Americans on omicron; Congress back Former defense secretary Esper sues Pentagon in memoir dispute Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — Major Russia weapons test stokes tensions MORE demanding to know why more waivers were not considered or granted.

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“While we continue to make positive steps forward for female, minority, gay and lesbian military service members, we are deeply concerned that the administration’s policies towards transgender service members are highly discriminatory against this class of individuals and remain an effective ban on their ability to serve our country in uniform,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter released Thursday.

The letter was organized by Reps. Anthony BrownAnthony Gregory BrownMaryland Democrats target lone Republican in redistricting scheme Hoyer endorses Jazz Lewis for Maryland House seat Democrats brace for flood of retirements after Virginia rout MORE (D-Md.) and Jackie SpeierKaren (Jackie) Lorraine Jacqueline SpeierGOP eyes booting Democrats from seats if House flips Texas Democrat Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson announces retirement at end of term Democratic Rep. Butterfield won't seek reelection: report MORE (D-Calif.) and co-signed by 10 Democratic House colleagues.

The report, which was sent to Congress in late June, covers the period from the day the administration’s transgender military policy took effect in April 2019 to Feb. 17 and is already out of date in at least one respect. The report says no waivers have been granted, but the Navy in May announced it granted a waiver to a transgender officer, the military’s first since the policy was put in place.

It is unclear whether any of the other data is out of date. A Pentagon spokeswoman told The Hill on Thursday new data was not readily available.

In their letter, the Democrats asked for updated data by Aug. 15 that goes through the end of July.

Before the Pentagon's current transgender policy took effect, transgender troops had been allowed to serve openly since June 2016 when the Obama administration lifted the previous ban on their service.

Under the Trump administration policy, transgender service members can only continue serving if they do so in their biological sex unless they are granted a waiver. The policy also allows those who came out under the Obama administration policy to continue serving openly.

Because of the exceptions, the Pentagon argues the policy is not a ban on transgender service.

But in their letter, the Democrats argued the data shows that “it is clear the administration’s policy towards transgender service members is effectively a ban.”

According to the report, 197 service members have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria since the Trump administration’s policy took effect: 86 in the Army, 59 in the Navy, 13 in the Marines and 39 in the Air Force.

A diagnosis of gender dysphoria, the clinical term for emotional distress caused by a conflict between gender identity and sex assigned at birth, could result in “the initiation of administrative separation” if a service member is “unable or unwilling to adhere to all applicable standards, including the standards associated with their biological sex,” according to the policy.

Of the service members diagnosed with gender dysphoria, 12 have been referred to the Pentagon’s Disability Evaluation System, which determines whether a service member will return to duty, be discharged for medical reasons or retire, according to the report. Eleven are in the Army and one is in the Navy.

The three who have been subject to processing for administrative separation include one Army soldier and two Navy sailors, according to the report. The two who were considered for a waiver are both in the Navy.

In addition to currently serving troops, the report also looks at recruits. According to the report, 19 people were medically disqualified from enlisting or commissioning as an officer based on the administration’s transgender policy: 11 in the Army, seven in the Navy and one in the Air Force.

Of those 19, none were considered for a waiver and none ended up enlisting or commissioning, according to the report.

In their letter, the Democrats asked for answers by Aug. 15 on why more waivers were not considered for recruits and current service members, as well as why waivers were not granted for those currently serving.

“The military must be open to all who meet a common set of requirements and wish to serve their country,” the lawmakers wrote. “We must treat all service members with respect and gratitude for their selfless sacrifice. Since the administration’s imposition of these policies, thousands of transgender service members have been treated as second class citizens and discriminated against by the very nation they fight to protect. This is unacceptable and we ask you to take immediate action to remedy this situation.”

Thursday’s letter comes after more than 100 House Democrats called the Trump administration to end its transgender military ban following a Supreme Court ruling barring discrimination against LGBT workers. The ruling did not apply to the military, but lawyers in the four lawsuits against the policy are hopeful the ruling will bolster their arguments.

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The Pentagon’s current policy came after President TrumpDonald TrumpOmar, Muslim Democrats decry Islamophobia amid death threats On The Money — Powell pivots as inflation rises Trump cheers CNN's Cuomo suspension MORE tweeted in July 2017 he would “not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.”

Ahead of the three-year anniversary of Trump’s tweet, which comes Sunday, the Palm Center released a memo this week saying Trump’s policy could be reversed within 30 days. That's because, the memo argues, the Obama administration’s policy framework was kept in place in order to grandfather-in transgender service members who came out before April 2019.

The memo, which was framed by some as a blueprint for how a potential administration of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenCDC working to tighten testing requirement for international travelers On The Money — Powell pivots as inflation rises Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by ExxonMobil — Manchin seeks 'adjustments' to spending plan MORE could reverse Trump’s policy, is intended for “any commander-in-chief who believes that the transgender ban harms military readiness,” said Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center.

“A big ship can take time to turn around, so often the Pentagon needs to study policy changes and move cautiously,” Belkin said in a statement. “But this is the rare case where, since the military left inclusive policy for already-serving transgender personnel in place even as it implemented its ban, the switch is just waiting to be flipped.”