First transgender recruit joins US military as Trump debates policy

The transgender recruit is the first under a federal court order.

ByElizabeth Mclaughlin
February 26, 2018, 2:43 PM

— -- The first transgender recruit is under contract to serve in the U.S. military, the Pentagon confirmed Monday.

This is the first transgender individual to sign a contract since a federal court order required the Pentagon to allow transgender individuals to join the military beginning Jan. 1 if they meet strict criteria, including certification by a medical provider of their health status and treatment associated with the applicant's gender transition.

"The Department of Defense confirms that as of February 23, 2018, there is one transgender individual under contract for service in the U.S. military," Department of Defense spokesman Maj. Dave Eastburn told ABC News.

The individual will begin basic training in a few months, Eastburn said.

The news was first reported by CNN.

The new recruit, whose service and gender is not being disclosed for privacy reasons, enters the military as President Donald Trump decides how the Department of Defense will handle the military service of transgender individuals.

On Friday, Secretary of Defense James Mattis made his private recommendation to the White House on that policy. The final policy announcement is expected to be made by Trump in late March.

The president tweeted last July that he wanted to ban all transgender service members, saying the military "must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory."

The move reversed the 2016 Obama administration directive that allowed those individuals to serve openly for the first time.

But since Trump's tweets, federal courts have rejected portions of the proposed ban. Most notably, beginning Jan. 1, the Pentagon complied with a court order that allowed transgender individuals to join the military under new guidelines.

New guidelines for entry

Under the guidelines effective beginning in 2018, applicants will be allowed to join the military if a medical provider certifies they have been stable without “clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning” for 18 months.

Similarly, a licensed medical provider must certify that an applicant “has completed all medical treatment associated with the applicant's gender transition, the applicant has been stable in the preferred gender for 18 months, and if presently receiving cross-sex hormone therapy post-gender transition, the individual has been stable on such hormones for 18 months.

Applicants who have completed sex reassignment or genital reconstruction surgery must have a licensed medical provider certify that “a period of 18 months has elapsed since the date of the most recent surgery, no functional limitations or complications persist, and no additional surgeries are required.”

What do we know about transgender service members?

The individual who signed a contract last month joins an unknown number of transgender service members.

Last year, defense officials estimated there were about 200 transgender individuals in the U.S. military who had self-reported to their services a desire for some form of medical treatment related to their gender identity.

However, the actual number of transgender service members is still unknown, primarily because military personnel records do not currently track transgender individuals.

A 2016 Rand study, which was referenced by former Defense Secretary Ash Carter, estimated that 2,450 active duty service members might be transgender, with 1,510 in reserve units.

The same Rand study said the "little research" on transgender service members showed "little or no impact on unit cohesion, operational effectiveness, or readiness."

"Commanders noted that the policies had benefits for all service members by creating a more inclusive and diverse force," the study said.

At the time of the study, 18 countries, including the United Kingdom, Israel, Canada, and Australia, allowed transgender personnel to serve openly.

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