July 2, 2015 at 4:37 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Navy, Marine Corps raise authority for trans separations

transgender, service members, gay news, Washington Blade

The Navy and Marine Corps have raised the authority for transgender separations. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Navy has joined other military services in raising the authority to a senior civilian official for discharging transgender sailors and Marines on based on their gender identity in an apparent attempt to limit those separations.

Lt. Cmdr. Ed Early, a Navy spokesperson, confirmed on Thursday the change for both military services to the Washington Blade and said it took effect Wednesday.

“Effective immediately, separations of Navy and Marine Corps personnel 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 for Manpower and Reserve Affairs for decision,” Early said.

The announcement is consistent with a one-page memo dated July 1 being circulated by LGBT military groups. The missive, signed by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, informs senior military leaders — Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert and Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, Jr. — separations of service members in the Navy and Marine Corps for being transgender are now handled by the assistant secretary of the Navy for manpower and reserve affairs.

The memo, confirmed as accurate by the Navy, states the new guidance will remain in effect “unless superseded by amendments to the references.”

The Navy Department can alter the policy for both the Navy and the Marine Corps because the civilian leadership has jurisdiction over both military services.

The change from the Navy was expected. Last month, the service announced it was considering a change to raise the authority for discharging troops for being transgender, but said there was no set timeline for a decision.

Repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” enabled openly gay people to serve in the U.S. military, but transgender people are still barred from service because of medical regulation. DOD Instruction 6130.03 calls for separation of service members who undergo gender reassignment or have “psychosexual conditions” that include transvestitism or transsexualism.

The change means that each of the military services within the Defense Department have raised the authority needed to discharge a service member for being transgender. In March, the Army raised the discharge authority to the assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and reserve affairs. Last month, the Air Force followed suit by elevating the authority for transgender expulsions to the Secretary of the Air Force Personnel Council for a recommendation, then to the Air Force Review Boards Agency director for a decision.

But the new Navy policy appears to be somewhere in between the extent of changes for the Army and the Air Force. The Navy goes further than the Army because guidance for the latter service was set to expire in 12 months or earlier if superseding guidance is published.

At the same time, the Navy doesn’t go as far as the Air Force because the latter service indicated neither gender dysphoria nor identification as transgender is an automatic circumstance that generates involuntary separation and separations. Moreover, separations for being transgender in the Air Force must be supported by a report of evaluation by a psychiatrist or Ph.D.-level clinical psychologist.

Matt Thorn, interim executive director of the LGBT military OutServe-SLDN, praised the Navy for making the change, but said the time has come for the Pentagon to take action.

“We commend the Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus’ decision in elevating the discharge requirements for transgender sailors both enlisted and officer to secretarial level,” Thorn said. “This is another step in the process towards open transgender service. We applaud the fact that the major branches of the Defense Department (The Army, Navy and Air Force respectively) have now all moved to elevating the separation of transgender service members in recent months. We again ask that the Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter use this momentum and recent decisions to fully allow opening service in the military for transgender individuals.”

It remains to be seen whether the Pentagon will implement a Defense Department-wide policy change on transgender service or end the policy of gender identity-based expulsions entirely. Both Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and the White House have indicated openness to transgender military service, but the ban remain in place and no review specific to the policy has been ordered.

Instead, the Pentagon has stated it is conducting a routine, periodic full-range review of medical regulations. Although it isn’t specific to transgender service, it may encompass the military ban.

A Defense Department spokesperson referred to the Navy on whether the service’s change in transgender policy would precede a Defense Department-wide change in the U.S. military.

Ashley Broadway-Mack, president of the American Military Partner Association, said the Navy change is important, but more work is necessary.

“This important announcement brings the Navy and Marine Corps in line with the Army and the Air Force in the higher level of authority required to discharge a service member for being transgender,” Broadway-Mack said. “While this is welcome news and an important step in the right direction, it does not change the ultimate risk of being fired that transgender troops continue to face simply for being open and honest about who they are. We need the Department of Defense to expeditiously update the outdated regulations that continue to threaten and harm our transgender service members and their families.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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