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US Navy allows first transgender sailor to serve in preferred gender

Graduating recruits stand in formation inside Midway Ceremonial Drill Hall during a pass in review graduation ceremony at Recruit Training Command. More than 35,000 recruits train annually at the Navy's only boot camp. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Spencer Fling/Released)
May 18, 2020

After previously being banned, the U.S. Navy is allowing the first transgender service member to serve in the Navy under their preferred gender.

“The acting Secretary of the Navy has approved a specific request for exemption related to military service by transgender persons and persons with gender dysphoria,” Navy spokeswoman Lt. Brittany Stephens told CNN.

“This service member requested a waiver to serve in their preferred gender, to include obtaining a gender marker change in (the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System) and being allowed to adhere to standards associated with their preferred gender, such as uniforms and grooming,” Stephens added.

This means there are a host of different standards, for example, for a man who chooses to serve in the Navy as a woman. Included in the different standards are physical and combat training minimum requirements, dress codes, and grooming, Stephens said.

The identity of the sailor was not revealed, but attorneys from GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) who represent the sailor described them as a U.S. Navy officer who served more than nine years with two extended tours of duty.

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“The ban has been in place for over a year and this is the first waiver to be granted,” said Jennifer Levi, GLAD Transgender Rights Project Director, in a statement provided to American Military News. “While we are relieved that our client, a highly qualified Naval officer, will be able to continue her service, there are other equally qualified transgender service members who have sought waivers and are still in limbo, despite being perfectly fit to serve. Dedicated military service members shouldn’t have to bring a lawsuit to be able to continue doing their job.”

GLAD and NCLR attorneys had filed a lawsuit against Defense Secretary Mark Esper in March to challenge the transgender ban on behalf of the naval officer.

In 2019, President Donald Trump reinstated a ban on transgender individuals — those diagnosed with gender dysphoria — from serving in the military. Former President Barack Obama reversed the previous ban, which allowed people with gender dysphoria to serve in the military.

“After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you,” Trump had written in a series of tweets in July 2017.

A notable point of contention for allowing transgender individuals to serve in any of the United States’ armed forces is that the physical requirements for men and women are different. Physical fitness standards are lower for women than men due to the differences in physical composition. Additionally, suicide rates and mental illness are typically higher among those who identify as transgender.