The Defense Department is claiming that its transgender ban is not a transgender ban, yet its latest policy on transgender individuals will ban some people with a medical diagnosis of "gender dysphoria" from joining the military as of April 12.
Under the new policy, people diagnosed with gender dysphoria can still join the military if they have been stable for 36 months and if they have not yet had medical treatment to transition to a new gender, defense officials told reporters on Wednesday.
Roughly 1,000 currently-serving troops with a diagnosis of gender dysphoria along with another 8,000 service members who have identified as transgender on a 2016 survey will be able to remain in the military under the Defense Department's previous transgender policy, defense officials said during a conference call.
Here is a partial transcript of Wednesday's background conference call about the transgender policy. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Q: If someone is a currently serving transgender service member, in what way would they be grandfathered in and can serve or do all transgender service members now need to be serving in their biological sex?
So, we have in the policy designated certain individuals as exempt, which means they can continue serving under all of the all auspices of the 2016 policy. Those members are exempt if they are currently serving and have a diagnosis of gender dysphoria or they're getting ready to enter the service, so they've signed a contract with the military to assess as a military person, or they're in the academy or ROTC – they have been accepted into a commissioning program.
All of those individuals are grandfathered – or exempt – and can continue serving for the length of their service under the terms of the old 2016, often referred to as the "Carter" policy.
Q: Why is there a line in the policy that says: If current service members are unable to meet the standards associated with their biological sex, they would be referred to disability evaluation?
That is for the non-exempt population. If they're currently serving and have a diagnosis of gender dysphoria or were accepted , they can continue to serve under the 2016 policy, which allows them to serve in their preferred gender.
If you are a current member and don't meet that exempt population, the new policy requires everybody to meet all their standards, including those associated with their biological sex.
So if they're not exempt and they're currently in and later want to transition genders and get diagnosed with gender dysphoria, then they're subject to the new 2018 policy.
Q: If you're grandfathering in a number of people, doesn't that undercut your claims about unit cohesion, readiness, and unit morale?
The grandfather policy is a routine personnel policy. It's a matter of standard practice that when you institute a new policy, those who relied on the old policy are grandfathered for some period of time. It is nothing out of the ordinary.
Q: What is the difference between a service member who self-identifies as transgender and someone with a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria – and is there such a difference or is it a distinction that is meaningless?
I don't think it's a distinction that is meaningless at all. Somebody who self identifies as a transgender service member is almost without consequence in the military. There's nothing that we do in the military because somebody walks up and says: "Hey, I'm a transgender service member."
That is not a medical condition. Gender dysphoria; however, is recognized as a serious mental condition. Like all other mental and physical conditions, if someone is diagnosed with a serious medical condition, then we need to evaluate them for their ability to continue to serve, their ability to deploy – all requirements required of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines – and ensure that with that medical condition that they can continue to serve and meet all standards.
Q: Are you saying that service members who have a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria are not of sound mind?
No. What I'm saying is that gender dysphoria, according to the DSM-5 [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition] is listed as a mental condition.
Q: So is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. You don't discharge people with that. What's the difference?
Well, we do sometimes. Anyone with a medical condition gets evaluated against their terms of service and their requirements. Sometimes that's PTSD. Sometimes it's gender dysphoria. Sometimes it's cancer. Sometimes it's depression. Sometimes it's a blown out knee. But any time somebody has a medical condition that may affect their deployability or their ability to continue service, they undergo medical evaluations.
Q: How are service members diagnosed with gender dysphoria after joining the military?
That service member would seek medical attention and the medical provider would provide that diagnosis.
Gender dysphoria is associated with clinically significant distress. Most people, if they have that, it would manifest in a number of ways and they would seek help for that. The rest of the definition talks about impairment in important areas in functioning in life, either in social or work situations.
If somebody was under that level of stress, we would expect them to seek medical attention, which would trigger the diagnosis of whatever their ailment might be.
Q: The president cited tremendous medical costs and disruption and found transgender health conditions could burden military readiness. The DoD's own data shows that healthcare costs were $7.9 million over the last two years. Is that cost evidence of a burden on the military?
What Secretary Mattis did was based on feedback by the service chiefs he decided to impanel a panel of experts to study the impeding start of accessions into the military service by those with gender dysphoria and transgender individuals.
The panel of experts did not revolve around any single question. The panel of experts took all of the evidence presented to it, the entire scope of service by individuals. They looked at all the data we had. The cost was certainly an element that was presented to the panel but nothing turned on a single piece of evidence and this was the collective, best military judgment by the panel of experts. The secretary looked at it individually and applied his own best military judgment and this is what he came up with.
Q: Do you have any data with respect to the readiness levels of transgender service personnel?
We don't track transgender service members. That was a decided policy that in order to protect everybody's privacy we don't track individual service members by their gender indemnity. We don't have generalized data that would talk about the readiness of transgender service members because we don't track the identity of transgender service members.
Q: At the beginning of this entire briefing, your very first point was that this is not a ban. Yet you can't have someone who has gender dysphoria; you can't have someone who has transitioned. How can you expect the media to go forward and plausibly repeat this line that it's not a ban? There's simply no factual evidence for it and I think the Pentagon loses credibility when it expects us to parrot this line.
I take exception to your premise. I'd say a couple of things: By our best data, there are approximately 9,000 transgender service members serving honorably today, most of them under the terms and conditions and standards of their biological sex.
About 1,000 have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria. That leaves 8,000 currently serving, who serve in the confines of their biological sex. This policy doesn't apply to them. They're transgender service members and they're certainly not banned.
Now when we talk about the accession of new individuals: We have 35 pages of medical conditions that ban people – under that term – that presumptively disqualify people from entering the military, because people have to come in, deploy right away; we hope they can stay for 20 years; we don't want to exacerbate any existing medical conditions they have; and they have to be ready to perform in far-away and austere environments.
Gender dysphoria is no different. And, as with all of those medical conditions, if the service determines it's in their best interest, the service secretary can provide a waiver. So I really don't see how any logic gets you to: This is a ban on transgender service.