The Navy and Marine Corps have joined the Army and Air Force in making it harder to discharge transgender military members.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus signed a memorandum Wednesday stating: “Effective immediately, separations initiated under the provisions of the reference for service members with a diagnosis or history of gender dysphoria, who identify themselves as transgender, or who have taken steps to externalize the condition, must be forwarded to the assistant secretary of the Navy (manpower and reserve affairs) for decision.”
The memo was directed to the chief of Naval operations and commandant of the Marine Corps.
Sgt. Shane Ortega, a three-time Iraq and Afghanistan veteran and openly transgender soldier at Wheeler Army Airfield, said he was “elated” with the news because it gives transgender troops worried about discharge “the opportunity to breathe.”
“These type of historic actions are the ones that parallel the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Ortega said, referencing the removal of the ban on openly gay military service.
The military policy changes mean transgender personnel seeking medical treatment won’t be automatically separated from service, he said.
In 2013, the mental health manual used by psychiatrists for diagnosis replaced “gender identity disorder” with “gender dysphoria” for individuals who see and feel themselves to be a different gender than their assigned gender, according to the American Psychiatric Association.
“It is important to note that gender nonconformity is not in itself a mental disorder,” the association said. “The critical element of gender dysphoria is the presence of clinically significant distress associated with the condition.”
The Army and Air Force previously adopted requirements similar to those now in place for the Navy and Marines.
Openly transgender service is still technically prohibited by U.S. military regulation, but the White House and Pentagon have been slowly moving toward full acceptance.
Air Force Senior Airman Logan Ireland, an Afghanistan war veteran who, like Ortega, transitioned from female to male, was the invited guest of President Barack Obama at the White House’s recent Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month reception.
Ireland, whose command put him on special orders to attend in a male dress uniform, was accompanied by his fiancee, Army Cpl. Laila Villanueva, a transgender woman.
An estimated 15,500 transgender troops are on active duty and in the Guard or Reserve, according to the Williams Institute, which conducts research on sexual orientation at UCLA.
The policy changes for transgender troops “doesn’t mean that equal opportunity protections, uniforms, medical care and other important issues” have been resolved, Ortega said. “It simply means a step forward in the right direction toward ethical and moral human rights treatment for our service members.”
The American Medical Association noted in early June that a commission co-chaired by a former acting Army surgeon general determined that providing transgender personnel with medically necessary health care would not be excessively burdensome.
The AMA passed a resolution affirming "there is no medically valid reason to exclude transgender individuals from service in the U.S. military."