WASHINGTON — More than 100 transgender troops have informed the services that they want to transition to the opposite sex, be formally recognized in their new gender or are seeking counseling or medical treatment, according to documents and the military.
The troops are coming forward after the Pentagon’s new policy allowing the open service of transgender troops went into effect Oct. 1.
About 55 enlisted sailors and officers have informed their commanders they want to transition to the other gender, according to Lt. Cdr. Nate Christensen, a Navy spokesman. There are 48 airmen who are seeking transgender medical care or counseling, said Maj. William Lewis, an Air Force spokesman. In October, Army chief of staff Gen. Mark Milley told the Associated Press that 10 soldiers had formally sought to be recognized in their new gender.
Sailors were informed Monday about the transgender sailors and urged to abide by the new policy, according to an email from the Navy’s chief of personnel.
“Today, we know of approximately 55 sailors who have waited for this policy to be finalized, and desire a gender transition,” Vice Adm. Robert Burke wrote in an email to commanders obtained by USA TODAY. “With few exceptions, these sailors have had faith that the Navy would come through, and they observed all regulations and standards applicable to their birth gender.”
The exceptions he referred to are sailors who sought treatment before the policy was finalized, said a Navy official who spoke on condition of anonymity because officials were not authorized to speak publicly about details of those seeking treatment. Burke’s message accompanied the Navy’s new policy for transgender sailors.
“We would ask that your leaders assist our sailors in conforming to Navy regulations and uphold Navy standards of conduct as we navigate this change," Burke wrote.
The Pentagon’s repeal of the ban on transgender troops was announced June 30 after months of internal debate. Some members of the military brass objected, fearing the change was happening too quickly. Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, did not appear with Defense Secretary Ash Carter when the repeal was announced.
Transgender troops are estimated to make up a small fraction of the active-duty force of 1.3 million. A RAND Corp. study found there are as many as 6,630 transgender troops of whom dozens or a few hundred would seek hormone treatment or surgery. The cost of treating them was estimated at as much as $8.4 million per year. Individual treatment could cost as much as $50,000.
Transgender sailors must first prove to medical personnel that transition is medically necessary before treatment begins, according to guidance issued to commanders.
The Navy defined treatment that includes “real-life experience,” which could include wearing clothing of the opposite gender or hairstyle during off-duty hours, according to guidance issued to commanders.
Ultimately, treatment could also consist of hormone treatment and reassignment surgery.
“To remain the finest seagoing fighting force the world has ever known, the Navy needs people who are the right fit for the right job regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, creed, or gender identity,” Christensen said. “Our goal is to ensure that the mission is carried out by the best-qualified and the most capable service members. If an individual can meet the Navy's standards, they should be afforded the opportunity to serve.”