The Department of Defense appears to be marching lockstep with the Trump administration following its decision last week to rescind federal guidance to the nation’s schools on transgender students.
What was not clear until now is how that reversal would impact American students at military bases overseas. A spokesman for the Defense Department tells NBC Out the needs of transgender students will now be addressed on a “case-by-case basis.”
In October, then-Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter responded to the plight of a transgender girl at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany, who had been ordered to use either the boys’ restroom or a gender-neutral bathroom three floors away. As NBC Out reported, a DoD official overruled a decision by the school's principal that barred 11-year-old Blue from using the girls' bathroom just outside her classroom.
According to Blue’s mother, Jess, not only would her fifth-grader now be allowed to use the girls’ bathroom, but the DoD assured her its policy would be to follow the Obama administration guidelines at all 191 schools it operates in 12 foreign countries, seven states, Guam and Puerto Rico. The Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) serves more than 82,000 children of active duty military and DoD civilian families.
But with new leadership at the White House and the Pentagon, and the rollback officially underway, Lieutenant Colonel Myles Caggins III made it clear that last year’s assurance would not be adhered to by Defense Secretary James Mattis.
“Department of Defense Education Activity principals, educators, and staff will work collaboratively with parents and students on a case-by-case basis to address concerns and identify solutions,” Caggins stated in an email to NBC Out. “The Department of Defense is in receipt of the ‘Dear Colleagues’ letter from the Departments of Justice and Education and is reviewing it carefully to ensure policy and program compliance.”
“Every time school administration changes, we have to guess if our kids’ civil rights will be protected ... How can service members focus on their jobs if they are constantly worried?”
Blue’s mom, Jess, said she was devastated to learn of the decision, which was first reported by Military Times.
“I am very disappointed in the DoD and Secretary of Defense Mattis,” Jess told NBC Out in a Facebook message. “Their decision to go back to 'case-by-case basis' puts military families back into uncertainty and fear. Instead of protecting our most at-risk kids, they have chosen to make our kids pawns to politics.”
While she was unhappy that the only answers she’d received to her questions about this shift were from the teachers’ union and reporters, what angered Jess most was the inconsistency in how it will be applied.
Blue attends an intermediary school at Ramstein, and on the same base, other transgender students at the high school have never been restricted from using bathrooms consistent with their gender identity.
“Every time school administration changes, we have to guess if our kids’ civil rights will be protected,” Jess wrote. “How can service members focus on their jobs if they are constantly worried?”
Jess’s husband serves on the base. Their family's surname has been withheld to protect their identity and privacy.
Dawn Ennis is an award-winning journalist who was the first to transition in a network TV newsroom. She is now the host of a new talk show, “RiseUP with Dawn Ennis,” and a single mom raising three children. She blogs at lifeafterdawn.com, and you can follow her on Twitter @lifeafterdawn