The U.S. Navy granted its first waiver this week that will allow a transgender service member to continue serving despite a 2019 policy that would have seen the sailor discharged.
The naval officer, identified in the case as Jane Doe, served nearly 10 years in uniform as a surface warfare officer before being confronted with the likelihood of being kicked out under the new rules.
Doe filed her complaint — Lt. Jane Doe v. Mark T. Esper — in March in Massachusetts federal district court, with representation coming from the GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR).
According to the members of her legal team, Doe first came out as transgender after being diagnosed with gender dysphoria in June 2019. The new guidelines, however, went into effect in April 2019, leaving Doe without protection under the policy’s grandfather clause.
Under the current arrangement, military personnel who joined any branch “in their preferred gender or were diagnosed with gender dysphoria before the 2018 policy takes effect are exempt from the new policy and may serve in their preferred gender,” the Defense Department’s guidelines state.
The new policy was put into effect on the heels of a 2017 tweet from President Donald Trump that declared the military would no longer allow “transgender individuals to serve in any capacity,” a decision, the president wrote, came after “consultation with my Generals.”
Trump’s decision reversed a 2016 policy implemented by the Obama administration that allowed transgender individuals to serve openly in the armed force.
Officially enacted in 2019, the new rules state that transgender personnel cannot serve in uniform if they have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria or have yet to transition to an identified gender. Waivers to the policy will be considered “on a case-by-case basis,” according to DoD guidelines.
"The ban has been in place for over a year and this is the first waiver to be granted,” Jennifer Levi, GLAD Transgender Rights Project Director, said in a release announcing the waiver.
“While we are relieved that our client, a highly qualified Naval officer, will be able to continue her service, there are other equally qualified transgender service members who have sought waivers and are still in limbo, despite being perfectly fit to serve. Dedicated military service members shouldn’t have to bring a lawsuit to be able to continue doing their job.”
Navy officials confirmed the waiver’s approval, and noted that Jane Doe’s gender marker will be updated in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System.
The officer can now adhere to grooming and uniform standards in accordance to her preferred gender, Navy officials said.
Shannon Minter, Jane Doe’s legal representative from NCLR, said her team is “relieved for our client” but remains frustrated by the policy established by President Trump.
“Requiring transgender service members to jump through this discriminatory hoop makes no sense and only underscores the irrationality of the ban,” she said. “Being transgender has nothing to do with a person’s fitness to serve, and transgender individuals should be held to the same standards as other service members.”
Levi cited her client’s ability to serve as the reason the “Navy has invested nearly a decade in her training.”
But the Defense Department’s new policy, Levi added, “destabilizes and debases our military to discharge Doe and other highly qualified people under a politically motivated policy that has no basis in anything other than bias.”
There are currently four additional cases appealing the military’s rule on transgender service members.
J.D. Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.