Joint Chiefs of Staff

Pentagon's Transgender Student Policies Remain Unchanged

Defense Department public schools will continue to work with transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice on a case-by-case basis, despite a decision by the Trump administration to rescind an Education Department rule on transgender protections, officials said Friday.

Although Pentagon officials are reviewing the rule reversal, they are not putting in place any changes at their schools, they said.

"The Department of Defense is in receipt of the directive from the Departments of Justice and Education and is reviewing it carefully to ensure policy and program compliance," Lt. Col. Myles Caggins, a DoD spokesman, said in a statement. "DoD is committed to ensuring that all students at Department of Defense Education Activity schools and those participating in DoD Child and Youth programs learn and develop in environments free from discrimination, bullying and harassment."

At issue is a transgender student directive issued by the Obama administration last May, which allowed transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice, among other protections.

The Trump administration this week rescinded that change, opting instead to allow individual states and school districts the latitude to determine how transgender rights are handled in their schools.

DoDEA officials said their standard to work individually with transgender students and their families will continue despite the change, regardless of the state or country in which the student is located.

"DoDEA principals, educators and staff will work collaboratively with parents and students on a case-by-case basis to address concerns and identify solutions," said Elaine Kanellis, a DoDEA spokesperson.

Leading up to the announcement, some military family members with transgender students were concerned that the decision could result in a new battle for protections in DoDEA schools.

One such parent, Jessica Girven, said the policy shift threatens the advocacy work she did with DoDEA for her daughter, who goes by the name Blue, last year. Since then, Blue has been permitted to use the bathroom of her choice. Girven said she and Blue both fear that progress will be undone.

"What we require is access to medical care and a school where she can be herself without fear of not just discrimination, but violence," Girven said. "We're absolutely going backward."

Any change to the Pentagon's stance on transgender issues would be directed by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. During his Senate confirmation hearing last month, Mattis declined to say whether he believes LGBT persons undermine "the lethality of the military," when asked by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat.

"Frankly, senator, I've never cared much about two consenting adults and who they go to bed with," he said. "My concern is on the readiness of the force to fight and make certain it's at the top of the game so when we go up against the enemy, the criteria for everything we do in the military up to that point, when we put the young men and women across the line of departure, is that they will be at their most lethal stance. That is my obligation as I move into the job."

It is unclear whether transgender-specific health care policies rolled out under President Barack Obama could face reversals under the new administration. Current Tricare policy allows mental health counseling and transgender hormone therapy for retirees and military family members. Additionally, transgender troops have access to sex-change operations if they meet certain qualifications.

Still, some families fear that the education decision could signal a coming change to those health care provisions.

One such Army spouse, Amanda Brewer, said her transgender daughter, Jenn Brewer, 13, receives care on Fort Belvoir, Virginia, where they are stationed. They rely on Tricare's coverage of the expensive hormone therapy and mental health counseling for Jenn's care. Without it, she said, Jenn's mental health and safety are at risk.

Jenn attends an off-base Fairfax County school where she currently is permitted to use the bathroom of her choice and play on a city female rugby team. Although the Fairfax County School Board has supported transgender-friendly policies in the past, Brewer said, she is concerned that will not always be the case.

"It really is very scary to kind of be put back in the same sort of limbo that we were in just last year," Amanda Brewer said.

-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at amy.bushatz@military.com.