The U.S. Navy granted a waiver for a transgender service member to serve according to her gender identity last Friday, the first of its kind since the military enacted a ban on transgender troops.
The waiver comes after the officer, publicly known only as Jane Doe, sued President Donald Trump over his ban on transgender people serving openly in the military. She will now be allowed to change her gender markers on official documents and adhere to uniform and grooming guidelines accordingly.
The ban on transgender troops was enacted in 2018, reversing Obama-era policies. The new rules allowed transgender people to serve only as the gender of the sex assigned at birth. Transgender military members are allowed to apply for an exemption to the rule that is adjudicated based on individual circumstances.
Many officers who have applied for the waiver is still waiting for a decision, according to Jennifer Levi, the director of GLBTQ Legal Advocates Defendant’s (GLAD) Transgender Rights Project. GLAD represented Jane Doe.
“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,” Levi said.
Officers who apply for the waiver encounter an opaque process and assume a risk of being discharged. The Department of Defense (DOD) does not publicize a list of required application material or the criteria used to review applications. If a service member’s application includes a diagnosis for gender dysphoria, they can be discharged under current DOD rules, though no active service member has been discharged under this rule.
The waiver requirement places an unfair burden on transgender troops, according to Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights and an attorney for Jane Doe.
“There is no basis for treating transgender service members differently by requiring them to seek a waiver that no one else has to obtain in order to continue to serve,” Minter said.
As Jane Doe received the waiver, her lawsuit will likely be ruled moot. However, other transgender members not on active duty still have cases before the courts. These cases may prompt courts to adjudicate the constitutionality of the transgender ban.
Sources: Vox 05/16/20; CNN 05/15/20; NBC 05/16/20.