Air Force takes steps to change conditions for transgender service members

On Thursday of last week, the U.S. Air Force announce a change in its policy for transgender service members – to be removed from service, a decision must be made at a higher level of authority than previously, and gender dysphoria is no longer an immediate grounds for being removed from service. The announcement and subsequent follow up were seen as good news for trans service members, thousands of whom are estimated to be serving in all branches of the armed forces currently.

The changes were first announced in a news bulletin:

From U.S. Air Force News: Air Force elevates discharge authority for transgender-related Airmen separations

WASHINGTON (AFNS) — Air Force leaders announced June 4 a change to the decision authority for involuntary separations for enlisted Airmen diagnosed with gender dysphoria or who identify themselves as transgender.

“Though the Air Force policy regarding involuntary separation of gender dysphoric Airmen has not changed, the elevation of decision authority to the director, Air Force Review Boards Agency, ensures the ability to consistently apply the existing policy,” said Daniel Sitterly, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Manpower and Reserve Affairs.

This change follows a similar one instituted by the Army in March of this year.

Neither gender dysphoria nor self-identification as transgender is an automatic circumstance that generates involuntary separation. A recommendation for discharge because of gender dysphoria must be supported by a report of evaluation by a psychiatrist or Ph.D.-level clinical psychologist. In addition, after consultation with medical professionals, there must be a commander determination that the condition interferes with duty requirements — including potential deployment — or duty performance. Identification as transgender, absent a record of poor duty performance, misconduct, or a medically disqualifying condition, is not a basis for involuntary separation.

If command recommends involuntary separation of an enlisted Airman for gender dysphoria or for another reason and the enlisted Airman has self-identified as transgender, separation action will be reviewed by the Secretary of the Air Force Personnel Council for recommendation, and then to the AFRBA director, for decision.

Officer involuntary administrative separation decision authority remains with the AFRBA director.

And follow up clarification came later (courtesy Buzzfeed)

The Air Force statement on Thursday, however, went further — stating, “Neither gender dysphoria nor self-identification as transgender is an automatic circumstance that generates involuntary separation.”

Later clarifications to the Washington Blade from the White House seem to temper the news:

White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said in a follow-up email to the Blade the Obama administration’s position on transgender service hasn’t changed. “We did see the New York Times Editorial, but as Josh mentioned, we don’t have any new position on the military’s policy on this to offer today,” Schultz said. “Generally speaking, the President certainly agrees with the sentiment that all who are qualified to serve should be able to serve – but you should check with the Department of Defense for specific details on how they operationalize their policies.”

Other references:

The Williams Institute: Transgender Military Service in the United States
By Gary J. Gates, Jody L. Herman May 2014
An estimated 150,000 transgender individuals have served in the U.S. armed forces, or are currently on active duty. In addition, an estimated 134,000 transgender individuals are veterans or are retired from Guard or Reserve service, 8,800 transgender adults are currently on active duty in the U.S. armed forces, and an estimated 6,700 transgender individuals are serving in the Guard or Reserve forces. Transgender individuals assigned female at birth are nearly three times more likely than all adult women, and those assigned male at birth are 1.6 times more likely than all adult men, to serve.

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