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Military academies begin to follow transgender service ban

The U.S. Naval Academy will ban people who are transgender from attending the school, beginning with the 2020 school year.
The United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
The United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.Kathleen Lange / AP file

The elite academies that educate officers for the nation's armed forces have begun to implement the Trump administration's ban on transgender service members.

The U.S. Naval Academy will ban people who are transgender from attending the school, beginning with the 2020 school year. The Defense Department confirmed that change to the Capital Gazette newspaper on Monday. The school in Annapolis, Maryland, currently accepts transgender students and retains midshipmen who transition to another gender.

The administration's new policy took effect last week, stripping transgender troops of rights to serve openly and denying servicemen and women medical care if they choose to transition to another gender.

The Obama administration had lifted restrictions on transgender service members in 2016, allowing them to serve openly, and covered gender affirmation surgery.

A current Naval Academy student, Midshipman Regan Kibby, is one of six service members suing the Trump administration over its ban.

The U.S. Coast Guard has also implemented the new policy, as of April 12, the agency states on its website.

Coast Guard Academy spokesman David Santos confirmed in an email Wednesday that the policy change applies to the school in New London, Connecticut. A lengthy explanation on the Coast Guard's website states that past medical treatment, such as gender-reassignment surgery or hormone therapy, may disqualify future applicants from joining up.

The Trump administration's new policy also bars future applicants who've been diagnosed with gender dysphoria, a condition that can apply to people who identify as another gender and experience distress. Doctors say counseling, hormone therapy or surgery can lessen the anxiety.

There are some exceptions for people who've been diagnosed with gender dysphoria. For instance, someone can join the Coast Guard if their doctor says they can demonstrate three years of "stability in his/her biological sex immediately before applying to serve." The Defense Department says transgender people can serve if they remain in their "biological sex."

The administration's policy calls for troops diagnosed with gender dysphoria to be medically evaluated before they are discharged to see if they qualify as having a disability. Otherwise gender dysphoria can be considered a "condition that interferes with military service" like sleepwalking, bed wetting, motion sickness and personality disorders.

The American Medical Association has blasted the administration's transgender policy for military service. It told The Associated Press last week that the new policy and its wording mischaracterize transgender people as having a "deficiency."

The Defense Department said its use of the words "deficiencies" is military lingo for when an individual fails to meet standards to maintain a lethal force. It is not a reference to gender dysphoria, Lt. Col. Carla Gleason said.

An estimated 14,700 troops identify as transgender. An organization that represents transgender service members said several are attending each academy, although many haven't come out.

"The policy turns off access to some of our best and brightest, and that's not what our country needs to win future wars," said B Fram, communications director for Service Members, Partners and Allies for Respect and Tolerance for All, or SPARTA.

The nation has five service academies. They include the U.S. Air Force Academy, the U.S. Military Academy and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.

The Air Force Academy will conform with Defense Department policy when admitting future cadets, said Lt. Col. Tracy Bunko, an academy spokeswoman.

That means transgender people can serve "in their biological sex" if they meet Defense Department standards for that sex, she said. People who have had cross-sex hormone therapy, sex reassignment surgery or genital reconstruction surgery are disqualified.

People with a history of gender dysphoria cannot be admitted unless they meet certain conditions, including having no dysphoria in the previous three years, Bunko said.

The Coast Guard is part of the Department of Homeland Security. The Merchant Marine is part of the Maritime Administration, which is within the U.S. Department of Transportation.