POLITICS

Air Force Loosens Its Policy Banning Transgender Troops

06/05/2015 01:33 pm ET | Updated Jun 05, 2015

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Air Force announced Thursday that it is making it a little easier for transgender airmen to stay in their posts, despite the military's ban on them serving openly.

The new policy raises the level of authority necessary to discharge someone for being transgender. Until now, the decision to discharge has rested with a unit commander and a doctor who diagnoses that officer with a medical condition, gender dysphoria. Now, high-level officials at Air Force headquarters will be required to review the decisions made by those lower-level leaders and determine whether an officer's gender dysphoria interferes with duty requirements.

"Though the Air Force policy regarding involuntary separation of gender dysphoric Airmen has not changed, the elevation of decision authority to the director, Air Force Review Boards Agency, ensures the ability to consistently apply the existing policy," Daniel Sitterly, a spokesman for the Air Force's Manpower and Reserve Affairs, said in a statement.

The change follows a similar move by the Army earlier this year.

The U.S. military explicitly prohibits transgender troops from serving, but an estimated 15,500 transgender people are serving anyway in secret, according to a 2014 Williams Institute report.

The Defense Department appears to be taking baby steps toward lifting the ban. The Army and Navy have granted a handful of transgender veterans new identification forms that reflect their new names, and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has said he is "very open-minded" about transgender people serving.

"Are they going to be excellent service members?" Carter asked rhetorically in February, during a Q&A with troops in Kandahar, Afghanistan. "I don't think anything but their suitability for service should preclude them."

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