The Pentagon Is Giving Recruiters Clear Instructions Regarding Transgender Applicants

“Allowing every willing and capable individual to serve makes our national defense stronger.”

President Donald Trump tweeted in July the U.S. military would "not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve," but his proposed ban hasn't gone into effect. In fact, per federal court orders, the military must start accepting transgender recruits on January 1. Now the Pentagon is preparing military recruiters for that deadline, issuing new policy guidance regarding transgender applicants.

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In 2016, under the Obama administration, the Defense Department lifted its ban on transgender service members — allowing them to serve openly — but held off on allowing transgender recruits. President Trump ordered Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to provide recommendations on the reversal of that ban lift by March. In the meantime, however, the Pentagon is still working toward that January 1 deadline.

Meanwhile, multiple lawsuits against the proposed ban have been filed. In one of those cases, Doe v. Trump, nearly four dozen retired military officers and former national security officials signed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs. 

"Military leaders recognize that reversing the military's carefully considered decision to permit transgender people to serve openly sets a dangerous precedent that weakens the military, endangers our nation's safety, and undermines the integrity of military policy making," said Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, in a press release. "The military studied this issue extensively and concluded that permitting transgender people to serve would promote military readiness. A growing number of former military officials are speaking out against this reckless ban, because they know that allowing every willing and capable individual to serve makes our national defense stronger."

As The Washington Post reported on December 20, the U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command in Chicago distributed a new policy guidance throughout the armed services earlier this month, specifying it "shall remain in effect until expressly revoked." The policy paper says allowing transgender troops is "mandatory" and — echoing the words of Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — all people shall be "treated with dignity and respect." Lawyers challenging Trump's proposed ban have already cited the document in their lawsuits, the Post added.

The new guidance says military recruiting personnel should input recruits' personal information with a birth certificate, court order, or U.S. passport reflecting "preferred gender." Furthermore, the paper says, "the applicant's preferred gender will be used on all forms asking for the 'sex' of an applicant."

Transgender individuals who have undergone gender reassignment surgery can be recruited if doctors say they've been stable in their gender identity for 18 months with no complications or additional surgery needed. Meanwhile, transgender women who have not had gender reassignment surgery or hormone replacement "will wear undergarments consistent with their physical anatomy." Also, transgender women will not receive a pregnancy test, and everyone will receive a medical exam according to their "anatomical characteristics." The policy paper also gives commanders permission to "employ reasonable alternate measures" to accommodate transgender applicants' privacy during the recruitment process.

In court filings, officials with the Justice Department and Defense Department have claimed the January 1 deadline is putting undue pressure on the armed services. "There are considerable requirements associated with implementing this significant and complex policy change across the Department, considering that those personnel directly responsible for execution number in the tens of thousands and are geographically dispersed across the United States," Lernes J. Hebert, a senior Defense official, said in a court statement.

But advocates for transgender service members disagree, Palm Center Executive Director Aaron Belkin included. "Recruiters are not trained or expected to be medical experts and are not making medical judgments," Belkin said, per the Post. "Not before, not now."

Some aspects of this new policy are troublesome, however. Citing recruits' "preferred gender," for example, makes gender sound more like a preference than an identity. The focus on "anatomical characteristics" and "physical anatomy" implies a problematic correlation between recruits' bodies and their gender identity. And, as Pink News points out, the new policy still subscribes to a gender binary, meaning gender nonbinary recruits will still have to choose to identify as male or female if they want to serve.

Still, Shannon Minter told NBC News the policy paper is a positive step. "We are substantially satisfied," Minter said. "Our whole goal here is not to have some unique rules ... We just want transgender people to be treated exactly the same as everyone else."

Cover image via Shutterstock.

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