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5 Things to Know About DOD's New Policy on Military Service by Transgender Persons and Persons With Gender Dysphoria

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The Defense Department has released a new policy regarding service by individuals with gender dysphoria. The policy was developed by military and civilian experts on combat readiness, who consulted with medical professionals.


The policy addresses those who want to serve in the military and those who are already serving in the military.

Transgender Graphic
Transgender Graphic
This chart shows the differences between the Defense Department's 2016 policy and the 2018 update to that policy.
Photo By: DOD Graphic
VIRIN: 190313-D-ZZ999-001

Here are five things you should know about the new DOD policy:

The new DOD policy doesn't ban transgender individuals from service.
A transgender person is someone who identifies as a gender other than his or her biological sex. For example, a person who is biologically male but identifies as female may identify as transgender. Transgender individuals are not excluded from military service, and DOD policy specifically prohibits discrimination based on gender identity. But all persons, whether or not they are transgender, must meet all military standards, including the standards associated with their biological sex. Waivers or exceptions to these standards may be granted on a case-by-case basis.
Transgender service members may continue to serve.
Service members who joined the military in their preferred gender or were diagnosed with gender dysphoria before the 2018 policy takes effect are exempt from the new policy and may serve in their preferred gender.

Many transgender individuals already are serving honorably in uniform. Some are serving in their preferred gender, and many others are serving in their biological sex. These service members will not be asked to leave the military. DOD policy prohibits involuntary separation solely on the basis of gender identity, and it seeks to protect the privacy of transgender service members.
The new policy is focused on enhancing readiness, and comes after consultation with military and medical experts.
To maintain a military force that is worldwide deployable and combat effective, the military must set high standards, and all military members must sacrifice to meet these standards. In fact, just over 70 percent of prime military-age Americans cannot meet the military's standards.

Anyone who meets military standards without special accommodations can and should be able to serve — this includes transgender persons.

Persons with a history of gender dysphoria — a serious medical condition — and who have undergone certain medical treatment for gender dysphoria, such as cross-sex hormone therapy or sex reassignment surgery, or are unwilling or unable to meet the standards associated with their biological sex, could adversely impact unit readiness and combat effectiveness. For this reason, such persons are presumptively disqualified for service without a waiver.

This policy will ensure that the U.S. military maintains the highest standards necessary to achieve maximum readiness, deployability, and lethality to fight and win on the battlefield, DOD officials explained.
An illustration of a service member in silhouette saluting a group of fellow service members.
An illustration of a service member in silhouette saluting a group of fellow service members.
Photo By: Air Force Tech Sgt. Evelyn Chavez, Illustration
VIRIN: 190204-F-PB969-0002
Gender dysphoria is a medical condition.
Transgender individuals identify as a gender other than their biological sex. For some, the difference between their biological sex and their gender identity can manifest itself in a condition called "gender dysphoria."

Gender dysphoria is a marked incongruence between one's self-identified gender and one's biological sex. And that incongruence has to be so great that it causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, and other important areas of functioning. It's a recognized medical condition that if a patient comes in and sees a doctor and explains their symptoms, they can be diagnosed with gender dysphoria.

For some individuals, gender dysphoria can be alleviated through counseling. But for others, the treatment for gender dysphoria may include gender transition, which may involve living socially as the opposite gender without any anatomical changes or receiving hormone treatment or sex reassignment surgery.

Persons with gender dysphoria who seek to transition genders require special accommodations from military standards.
The new DOD policy eliminates special accommodations that were provided to persons with gender dysphoria but not to others.
First, the 2016 DOD policy allows individuals who were diagnosed with gender dysphoria and obtained hormone therapy or sex reassignment surgery to join the military in their preferred gender without a waiver if they were stable beforehand for at least 18 months. However, individuals with other conditions who obtained similar treatments, such as hormone therapy for low testosterone, could not join the military without a waiver.

The 2018 DOD policy eliminates this disparity. Individuals who have undergone either hormone therapy or sex reassignment surgery for gender dysphoria will no longer be able to join the military without a waiver.

Second, under the 2016 policy, all service members, including transgender service members, must adhere to the standards associated with their biological sex unless they are diagnosed with gender dysphoria and undergo gender transition.

Not all transgender persons have gender dysphoria, and not all transgender persons choose to transition genders. But for those who do have gender dysphoria and choose to transition genders, the 2016 policy allows them to serve in their preferred gender once their transition is complete. Gender transition may include undergoing hormone therapy or sex reassignment surgery or simply living socially as the opposite gender without any anatomical changes. For instance, a service member whose biological sex is male, but who identifies as female and is diagnosed with gender dysphoria and completes a gender transition, must adhere to the grooming, physical fitness and other sex-based standards associated with female service members.

All other service members who do not qualify for service under the 2016 policy, however, are required to adhere to the standards associated with their biological sex, even if doing so precluded them from expressing core aspects of their identity.

The 2018 policy ends this disparity. Except for those who are exempt from the 2018 policy, all service members, regardless of their gender identity, must adhere to the standards associated with their biological sex. These sex-based standards — such as physical fitness and body fat standards — are based on male and female physiology, not gender identity.

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