These Transgender Troops Need a Gender Dysphoria Diagnosis to Keep Their Jobs
With April 12 only two weeks away, many trans service members are struggling to get a gender dysphoria diagnosis in time to keep their jobs—and keep serving their country.
Chloe was supposed to spend the day studying for her Navy postgraduate finals.
But instead, she woke up at 7 a.m. one day in mid-March so she could drive 120 miles to the nearest Navy hospital in Lemoore, California, where she spent two hours with a doctor to secure a gender dysphoria diagnosis. After that, she drove the 120 miles back to school. She missed some crucial exam review, but easily passed her finals anyway.
“They didn’t seem too hard, thank God,” she told The Daily Beast.
Chloe, a Navy lieutenant commander who asked that her last name be omitted for privacy, is one of many transgender service members who are currently scrambling to get a gender dysphoria diagnosis before the Trump administration’s transgender troop ban goes into effect on April 12.
When it was first announced in mid-March, that April 12 deadline prompted several still-closeted transgender service members to seek out a gender dysphoria diagnosis, as The Daily Beast previously reported.
Now that the last preliminary injunction against the transgender troop ban has been dissolved, that cutoff date is even more urgent.
Before April 12, a gender dysphoria diagnosis will allow transgender service members like Chloe to serve openly—and even transition—under the troop ban’s grandfather clause. After April 12, a gender dysphoria diagnosis will mean discharge, and it will disqualify potential recruits.
Until recently, Chloe was waiting to come out as a transgender woman because she feared the impact of the transgender troop ban, which President Trump first announced on Twitter in July 2017. But shortly after the transgender military advocacy organization SPART*A informed her about the grandfather clause and the imminent April 12 deadline, Chloe made her road trip plan.
“It became real,” she said. “People can’t just sit on the fence and say, ‘Well, I’m waiting for something to happen and then I’ll transition.’ [Instead] it’s, ‘Oh, shots are fired. I need to make a decision now.’”
Two weeks ago, The Daily Beast interviewed several transgender service members— Chloe included—who were making plans to get a gender dysphoria diagnosis before April 12. With that deadline now only two weeks away, many of those same service members are still struggling to get a diagnosis on time.
Elliot Sommer, a graduate student in the army reserves, is in a particularly challenging situation. He submitted a civilian diagnosis for gender dysphoria to his superiors but recently found out that the paperwork was effectively “sitting on a desk, not going anywhere,” as he told The Daily Beast. In two weeks’ time, Elliot’s bid for a diagnosis will have to go up to the Reserve Command Surgeon—and back down to his company.
“So basically, everything is completely out of my hands,” he said. “There’s a lot of paperwork and administrative hoops to jump through.”
All he can do now is wait. Because Sommer submitted a gender dysphoria diagnosis for approval, he no longer has the option to wait for the transgender troop ban to end, as some service members who are still in the closet might attempt to do. If his diagnosis becomes official before April 12, he will be able to stay in the reserves. If not, he’s gone.
“Because the military knows [about my diagnosis] already, if it doesn’t make it where it needs to go, I will get discharged,” said Sommer—but that won’t stop him from serving as diligently as he can in the meantime.
“I’m still going to drill and do my job to the best of my ability and work hard,” he said. “It sucks to have to do that when everything’s up in the air, but I’m just doing my job.”
A transgender man serving in the Navy, who requested anonymity because he has not yet come out and is afraid to do so, told The Daily Beast that he is in the same boat as Sommer. His appointment was on March 28–and now the situation’s out of his hands.
“It makes me a bit uneasy to think [the process] might extend longer than the deadline to get my diagnosis,” he said. “But hopefully not.”
Others have been more fortunate. Caleb, a transgender man and Navy petty officer who previously told The Daily Beast that his various deployments and trainings have prevented him from getting a gender dysphoria diagnosis from a military provider, is one of them.
He recently emailed his psychiatrist about the deadline—and got a rapid response.
“I’m very happy to report that he replied after a dew days saying he placed the diagnosis in my record,” Caleb, who requested that his last name be omitted, told The Daily Beast.
That email came as a tremendous relief.
“I can actually conceptualize my future for once,” Caleb said. “I already have surgery scheduled for when I come back from deployment. I’m also way more excited about doing my job knowing I won’t have to choose between it and transitioning—go figure.”
Bryan Bree Fram, a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force and a non-binary person who serves as SPART*A’s communications director, is cutting it close. Fram saw a doctor on March 26 but told The Daily Beast, “I need to go back next Tuesday to get it finalized on the civilian side, then send it into the Air Force for confirmation.”
By next Tuesday, the deadline will be only 10 days away.
At this point, SPART*A is trying to help transgender service members get a gender dysphoria diagnosis while pushing for an eventual end to the transgender troop ban.
“We remain committed to continued service, the support of our members, and working with our leaders and elected officials to ensure open service is reinstated,” Lieutenant Commander Blake Dremann, president of SPART*A, told The Daily Beast.
Until the transgender troop ban gets rescinded, longtime service members like Chloe—who is only seven years from retirement— will be in a unique situation. She is part of the first wave of transgender people who are able to serve openly, but after April 12 she will be serving alongside other transgender people who must suppress their identity in order to remain in the military, per the dictums of the new policy.
Chloe is hopeful that the rush of people who are currently seeking a diagnosis will send a message about the number of transgender service members waiting in the wings.
“I think the military is realizing there are more people who are transgender than they realize,” she said. “This April 12 deadline has made all of these people come forward.”
Whatever happens after the ban goes into effect next month, Chloe believes one thing is certain: The Trump administration can try to end transgender military service—and they can certainly make life more challenging—but ultimately, they won’t succeed.
“Even with the ban, we’re not going away,” said Chloe. “We’re still here. We might be forced back into the shadows, but that doesn’t mean we go away.”