The Navy and the Marine Corps are now officially transgender-friendly services.

New rules approved by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus allow transgender people to join without fear of discrimination and allow sailors and Marines to receive gender transition treatment and surgery, provided a military medical provider says the surgery is "medically necessary" and that their plan gets the OK from their commanding officer.

The Navy released it's interim guidance in  NAVADMIN 248/16, on Monday. As of Tuesday, the Corps had yet to issue their policy and procedures via a MARADMIN.  

"Transgender individuals shall be allowed to serve openly in the Navy," Chief of Naval Personnel Adm. Robert Burke wrote in  NAVADMIN 248/16, which provided interim guidance on transgender policies. "No otherwise qualified Service Member may be involuntarily separated, discharged, or denied reenlistment or continuation of service solely on the basis of gender identity or an expressed intent to transition gender."

The Navy and Marine Corps identify a a service member's gender by what it calls the "gender marker" in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System, according to the instruction approved Friday.

That marker determines which uniforms a sailor or Marine will wear and which physical fitness standards they'll have to meet. It also determines whether they'll use male or female shower facilities, bathrooms and berthing.

Changing that marker is now possible. Both services will now assist sailors and Marines in making the transition, and lays out the new rules once their transition is complete.

"Once the gender marker is changed in DEERS, the Service Member will be recognized in the preferred gender and held to preferred gender standards from that point forward," the instruction says.

This administrative change has been possible since Oct. 1, when the Defense Department officially sanctioned transgender transition for military members. Enlistment of transgender individuals into the military is on the way too, and is officially sanctioned as of July 1, 2017, the message said. 

"In order for Sailors currently serving to transition genders, they must first receive a diagnosis from a military medical provider indicating that gender transition is medically necessary and develop a transition plan, approved by their commanding officer," Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, spokesman for the chief of naval personnel said in a Tuesday phone interview.

"During the transition process, service members shall comply with all standards of the gender marker currently in Navy Personnel administrative systems and DEERS."

Christensen said that transition medical treatment will differ for each individual and may include all or some of "behavioral health counseling, cross-sex hormone therapy, surgery, and real-life experience."

Which of those treatments a sailor will get will be outlined in "a medical treatment plan developed by the military medical provider," the instruction states.

That plan will outline all the proposed medical treatments and give a "projected timeline for completion of gender transition, and estimated periods of non-deployability and absence," according to the instruction.

During the sailor's transition treatments, the rules are clear, but also give some wiggle room as well to account for individual circumstances that could arise, Christensen said.

"Sailors will use the berthing, shower facilities and bathrooms of their birth gender," he said. "Birth gender uniform and grooming standards will also be maintained until after the gender marker change is complete in the personnel administrative systems and DEERs."

Waivers are also possible, depending on each individual sailor's situation, but only if the medical providers believe it's in their best interest.

"An exception to policy request can be submitted through the Sailor's chain of command to the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Manpower, Personnel, Training and Education for adjudication," Christensen said.

As always, the Navy will provide training to educate the fleet on the issues and procedures. It's slated to start sometime in November, Christensen said.

Navy commands will be given DVDs, training materials, a facilitation guide as well as a commanding officer's toolkit to assist the training and should be complete for all active-duty sailors no later than Jan. 31, 2017, and April 30, 2017, for reserve sailors.

The DOD transgender handbook will be used in the Navy's training.

The Navy has set up a phone line, 1-855-628-9311, for sailors who want answers on the policy and procedures. Sailors will need to press "0" and follow a series of prompts to get their answer. They can also email with specific questions.

Mark D. Faram is a former reporter for Navy Times. He was a senior writer covering personnel, cultural and historical issues. A nine-year active duty Navy veteran, Faram served from 1978 to 1987 as a Navy Diver and photographer.

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