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Trump Memo On Transgender Troop Restrictions Creates Confusion

NOEL KING, HOST:

The Trump administration's ban on military service by transgender people was announced via tweet last year, and then it was blocked by the courts. Now the ban has been laid out in detail through a memo released late on Friday. As NPR's Camila Domonoske reports, the document brings more details but also more confusion.

CAMILA DOMONOSKE, BYLINE: The memo isn't a total ban, like President Trump called for in his tweets, but it's pretty close.

BLAKE DREMANN: For the first 45 minutes of reading that memo, I thought I was out of a job.

DOMONOSKE: Blake Dremann is the president of SPART*A, an LGBT military advocacy group. He's also a lieutenant commander in the Navy. He still has a job because the policy has an exception for current openly trans service members. There's another exception for trans people who don't seek hormones or surgery. They are permitted to serve, quote, "in their biological sex" as long as they are not diagnosed with gender dysphoria. That's the clinical diagnosis of distress caused by the difference between assigned gender and gender identity. Basically, transgender people can serve as long as they don't actually transition genders, and only if they don't experience stress as a result. Shannon Minter, the legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, says that's nonsensical and familiar.

SHANNON MINTER: It reminds me very much of back in the old days when people who opposed the freedom to marry for gay people would say, well, gay people can marry, they just have to marry someone of the opposite sex.

DOMONOSKE: Minter's group has sued the administration over the ban. Meanwhile, conservative groups have welcomed the memo. Tom Spoehr runs The Heritage Foundation's Center for National Defense. He's a retired lieutenant general.

TOM SPOEHR: I was really taken by how, I guess you'd say, nuanced the policy is.

DOMONOSKE: He notes there are many conditions that disqualify people for military service. Dremann, for his part, says that making gender dysphoria disqualifying will just push people away from getting mental health treatment.

DREMANN: If that's the issue that they're struggling with, they're not going to go because the moment they're diagnosed for gender dysphoria, they're at risk for discharge.

DOMONOSKE: For now the military is still allowing trans people to join and serve, and trans service members are living in limbo, even those covered by the exception. The Defense Department says it made a solemn promise to them and a significant investment. But if the courts say it doesn't make sense to allow some trans service members and not others then the Pentagon says it would change its policy and not allow any to serve. Camila Domonoske, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.