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Military seeks more time on transgender policy

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senior military leaders expressed deep concerns this week that the launch of new Pentagon rules allowing transgender service members to serve openly in the U.S. military is moving too quickly, arguing that a number of details and questions must still be resolved, several senior U.S. officials told The Associated Press.

The Pentagon plans to unveil the new regulations in the next day or two. Under the new policy, transgender individuals will be allowed to serve in the military, and can no longer be forced to leave based on their gender identity. Officials familiar with the plan said it states that service in the military should be open to anyone who can meet the rigorous service standards, regardless of their gender identity.

Officials said the plan also says that people with gender dysphoria, a history of medical treatments associated with gender transition and those who have had reconstruction surgery may be disqualified as military recruits unless a medical provider certifies that they have been clinically stable in the preferred gender for 18 months, and are free of significant distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas. They also said transgender troops receiving hormone therapy must have been stable on the medication for 18 months.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to talk about sensitive policy discussions before the decisions were made public.

The military service chiefs said during a private meeting earlier this week they were concerned that they were being given as little as 45 days to develop an implementation plan, and another 45 days to put it in place. They said that timeline isn't enough and asked Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to relay their concerns to Defense Secretary Ash Carter this week.

In the private meeting, the military service chiefs said the Defense Department should set up a panel of experts that could have up to a year to go over and fully implement the policy, to ensure that decisions are fair and consistent across the services.

According to defense officials, the service chiefs made it clear that they are not opposed to the policy change. But they believe the new draft policy doesn't include enough specifics to guide commanders who will have to make decisions about people in their units. They said the new rules should be rolled out in phases over the next several months

The officials said that the military leaders, including Gen. Mark Milley, the Army chief of staff, and Gen. Robert Neller, commandant of the Marine Corps, pointed to the move several years ago to allow gays to serve openly in the military, and said that the transition went smoothly because they were given adequate time to prepare and train their forces.

Carter made it clear last July that he intended to rescind the ban on transgender service members serving in the military, calling it outdated. He has long argued that the military must be more inclusive to bring in the best and brightest. At the time he ordered a six-month study aimed at formally ending one of the last gender-based barriers to military service, but officials say he has been frustrated with the slow progress.

Officials estimate there are likely several thousand transgender individuals serving in the military, and the policy provides broad guidelines for those service members.

For example, transgender troops will be able to use the bathrooms, housing, uniforms and fitness standards of their preferred gender only after they have legally transitioned to that identity, according to officials familiar with the decisions.

The plan says that transgender troops must be fit for duty and able to serve as their birth gender, and then be able to meet all standards and be fit for duty in their preferred gender once the transition is done.

The new rules, however, note that transitions are all unique. So they give commanders flexibility, allowing them to make some decisions on a case-by-case basis, including for job placement, deployments and training delays, based on the needs of the military mission and whether the service member can perform their duty. That flexibility includes the ability to waive or reduce the 18-month time frame, if warranted.

The policy also allows commanders to approve certain accommodations when possible, such as when troops are showering. That could include installing shower curtains, towel hooks or allowing transgender troops to shower at different times or wear minimal clothing.

The military policy differs from civilian gender transitions, where transgender individuals often dress, live socially and work fulltime in their preferred gender during the process. Under the new policy, service members would only be able to do that when off-duty and away from their duty station.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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