WASHINGTON — The Defense Department has approved a new policy that will largely bar transgender troops and military recruits from transitioning to another sex, and require most individuals to serve in their birth gender.

The memo outlining the new policy was obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press, and it comes after a lengthy and complicated legal battle. It falls short of the all-out transgender ban that was initially ordered by President Donald Trump. But it will likely force the military to eventually discharge transgender individuals who need hormone treatments or surgery and can't or won't serve in their birth gender.

The order says the military services must implement the new policy in 30 days, giving some individuals a short window of time to qualify for gender transition if needed. And it allows service secretaries to waive the policy on a case-by-case basis.
 
Under the new rules, currently serving transgender troops and anyone who has signed an enlistment contract by April 12 may continue with plans for hormone treatments and gender transition if they have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria.

But after April 12, no one with gender dysphoria who is taking hormones or has transitioned to another gender will be allowed to enlist. And any currently serving troops diagnosed with gender dysphoria after April 12 will have to serve in their birth gender and will be barred from taking hormones or getting transition surgery.

The memo lays out guidelines for discharging service members based on the new policy. It says a service member can be discharged based on a diagnosis of gender dysphoria if he or she is "unable or unwilling to adhere to all applicable standards, including the standards associated with his or her biological sex, or seeks transition to another gender."

It adds that troops must be formally counseled and given a chance to change their decision before the discharge is finalized.

In a statement Tuesday night, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the ban "cowardly."

"The President's revival of his bigoted, disgusting ban on transgender servicemembers is a stunning attack on the patriots who keep us safe and on the most fundamental ideals of our nation," the California Democrat said. "The President's years-long insistence on his cowardly ban makes clear that prejudice, not patriotism, guides his decisions."

Palm Center, a California research institute, protested the new policy Tuesday. Director Aaron Belkin said, "The Trump administration is determined to bring back 'don't ask, don't tell,' a policy that forced service members to choose between serving their country and telling the truth about who they were."

The final legal injunction blocking the new policy was lifted last week, allowing the Pentagon to move forward. But restrictions on transgender troops are likely to face ongoing legal challenges and have been slammed by members of Congress as discriminatory and self-defeating.

The memo was signed by David L. Norquist, who is currently serving as the deputy defense secretary.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., said in February that barring service by transgender individuals "would cost us recruits at a time when so few Americans are willing to serve." She spoke at a hearing in which transgender troops testified that transitioning to another sex made them stronger and more effective members of the military.

Until a few years ago service members could be discharged from the military for being transgender, but that changed under the Obama administration. Then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced in 2016 that transgender people already serving in the military would be allowed to serve openly. And the military set July 1, 2017, as the date when transgender individuals would be allowed to enlist.

After Trump took office, however, his administration delayed the enlistment date and called for additional study to determine if allowing transgender individuals to serve would affect military readiness or effectiveness.

A few weeks later, Trump caught military leaders by surprise, tweeting that the government won't accept or allow transgender individuals to serve "in any capacity" in the military. "Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail," he wrote.

His demand for a ban triggered a legal and moral quagmire, as the Pentagon faced the prospect of throwing out service members who had willingly come forward as transgender after being promised they would be protected and allowed to serve. And as legal battles blocked the ban from taking effect, the Obama-era policy continued and transgender individuals were allowed to begin enlisting in the military a little more than a year ago.

 

While acceptance of LGBTQ individuals has been growing rapidly in the last decade, there are still subsets of people who abhor any orientation other than heterosexual. Coming out is never an easy process for LGBTQ people, no matter their age. For teens experiencing same-sex attraction, particularly those whose families are deeply religious, there are added fears: “What if they kick me out?” “What if they disown me completely?” “What if they make me ‘pray the gay away?’”

Pray the gay away is a colloquial term referencing the practice of conversion therapy—the practice in which pseudoscience religious extremists attempt to change one’s sexual orientation. Parents can legally force their LGBTQ children into conversion therapy in all but 14 states, and for those LGBTQ teens living in the other 36 states, conversion therapy is a very real fear.

The stories survivors of conversion therapy tell are frightening to hear, even for those who are not LGBTQ. Survivors talk of forced exercise to the point of exhaustion and vomiting, withholding of food, emotional abuse couched as “social conditioning,” isolation, electric shocks as a form of aversion therapy—including shocks to specific, intimate areas of the body—and being forced to watch explicit content to learn “right” from “wrong.”

One survivor, Alex Cooper, was held apart from her Mormon parents by another couple for eight months. First, she was required to learn how to be a good housewife to “cure” her of being a lesbian. When that didn’t work, she was sleep deprived and forced to wear a backpack full of rocks that weighed 40 pounds to represent the physical burden of being gay. Other survivors talk about being forced to wear sandwich boards bearing the words, “I’m gay. Save me from temptation,” in their communities, because their rehabilitation was a community effort. Others have mentioned enduring hours of talk therapy where they were repeatedly told same-sex attraction guarantees they would contract HIV, or that the only reason they experienced same-sex attraction was because they were sexually abused when they were younger. For many who went through conversion therapy, the only way out was to say the therapy worked and they became straight, then live a lie until they could be free of the authority figures who forced them into conversion therapy in the first place.

There are survivors who were able to escape by calling friends or supportive relatives to come get them, sneaking out and running from the facility, or waiting until they were allowed to leave for school and escape from there. Those that had supportive friends or family were lucky, but others had to find a way to support themselves by working whatever job a minor could get. There are a sad, and alarmingly high, number of conversion therapy veterans who commit suicide, either to escape the torture at the time, or years later, when the psychological damage they endured gets the better of them.

For these reasons, the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American College of Physicians, the American Counseling Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and other highly respected boards of medicine and psychology in the United States reject conversion therapy as a legitimate treatment. These boards have called into question the ethics of the practice, particularly in the absence of research showing a scientific basis for changing someone’s sexual orientation. These medical and psychological experts all contend that same-sex attraction is not a mental disorder in need of treatment and that sexual orientation cannot be changed. It is a normal, healthy variation of human sexuality, and as such, needs no intervention. Furthermore, the effects of conversion therapy on patients are harmful, leading to increased anxiety and depression, and intensified suicidal thoughts and ideation.

State legislatures are beginning to agree. Besides the 14 states that already ban the practice for minors, conversion therapy ban bills are being raised in other states. Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, New YorkIndiana and Minnesota have all introduced legislation that would ban the practice, and at least two of those have happened since the beginning of 2019. Denver became the most recent city to ban conversion therapy through a unanimous city council vote on Jan. 7.

Utah is currently considering a bill banning conversion therapy, introduced by two Republican lawmakers, but the bill is facing backlash from an interesting source. While the Mormon Church put out a statement that it does not intend to fight the ban, a number of therapeutic professionals have opposed the ban as too broad. They argue that it prevents them from providing necessary talk therapy treatment to clients who are not comfortable with their sexuality. Even if these professionals do not intend to change their clients’ sexuality, they worry that the ban will cause them to limit the help they provide out of fear that their conversation may violate the ban. New Jersey, one of the first states to ban conversion therapy, is also facing a lawsuit by the Liberty Council, a group that files lawsuits based on evangelical Christian values. This lawsuit asserts many of the same arguments as those opposed to the Utah ban—interference with the doctor-patient or counselor-patient relationship.

The topic of conversion therapy has recently come into mainstream social consciousness, in part because of the release of two acclaimed films: “The Miseducation of Cameron Post,” a Sundance award winner, and the higher profile film, “Boy Erased,” starring Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman and Lucas Hedges. “Boy Erased” is based on a true story and depicts a boy, 19, outed to his Baptist parents, who force him to choose between being ostracized from his family, friends and faith, or attending conversion therapy. Both films are emotionally charged and reach a broad range of viewers—one aimed at teens and the other at parents—hopefully showing a larger audience the dangers of conversion therapy than has seen it before. Neither film is the first of its kind, but their impact may be significant if the social landscape is ready to listen, and more importantly, do something about it.

Conversion therapy is not a new practice, but it is being discussed in a new way from both sides. The silence surrounding conversion therapy is falling as survivors speak out and demand to be heard. The authors of many of these stories vividly describe the abuse, and in some cases torture, they endured as part of these conversion therapy camps. Medical and psychological professionals say it’s not only unhelpful but harmful to those who go through it, and the only healthy choice is to ban this pseudo-therapy. Sexual orientation and gender identity are not mental disorders, they are not afflictions that need to be treated, or aberrations one can pray away. Hopefully, willing legislators, vocal survivors and continued discussion can stop this practice. LGBTQ teens, and even older members of the queer community, need to hear that their lives are not something that needs to be fixed, and they deserve love from who they love. That affirmation needs to be heard by the entire community, but most importantly by those most affected by conversion therapy—our young people.

An Ohio appeals court has overturned a judge's decision to deny a transgender 15-year-old a legal name change.

In a unanimous decision, the 12th District Court of Appeals ruled Warren County Probate Judge Joseph Kirby's decision "was arbitrary, unreasonable, unconscionable and based solely upon the transgender status of the applicant's child."

Kylin and Stephanie Whitaker, the parents of the teen, applied for the name change after their child received therapy at the Lindner Center for about a year and was beginning hormone therapy at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, court documents state.

Both of the teen's parents, a therapist and a doctor specializing in treating transgender children stood behind the name change.

In June, Kirby denied the request claimed the teen lacked the "maturity, knowledge and stability" to make such a decision.

"Whether [the teen] is experiencing Gender Dysphoria or is just not comfortable with her body is something that only time will reveal," Kirby wrote in his decision. "Is [the teen's] distress brought about by confusion, peer pressure, or other non-transgender issues – or is it truly a mismatch between her gender identity and her body."

The Whitakers appealed the decision. They said Kirby ignored the advice of medical and mental health professionals who say an early name change allows transgender children to get their driver's license and register for school with a name that reflects their gender identity, avoiding further confusion and trauma.

The Whitakers were also part of a lawsuit against Kirby, but the Ohio Supreme Court declined to take on the case.

Kirby said he in court filings that he is obligated to rule in the best interest of the child.

The appeals court decision, dated March 4, states Kirby fixated on the teen's maturity and failed to adequately consider the parent's wishes and medical advice.

"The parents undertook efforts to satisfy themselves that [their child's] feelings about his gender identity were 'real,' and ... were satisfied that [the teen] did not want the name change as part of a 'fad,' 'trend,' or 'passing phase,' " according to the decision.

"This is a huge win," said Josh Langdon, the Whitakers' lawyer. "I believe this is the first pro-LGBT case from the 12th District."

Kirby's judgment has been reversed and remanded, meaning that the Warren County Probate Court has been ordered to reconsider the Whitakers' application.

It is up to Kirby whether he holds additional hearings for the case. In theory, Kirby could also issue another ruling denying the name, but the appeals court decision would demand more justification.

Jennifer Shaul and her husband, Jeff Shaul, had a scheduled hearing delayed regarding a name change for their transgender child while the Ohio Supreme Court and appeals court make their decisions. The Shauls' case is now schedule to take place next month. 

Kirby could not be reached for comment at the time of this report.

State officials are intentionally and unlawfully discriminating against transgender people who need medical care, a new lawsuit claims.

The lawsuit was filed Monday by half a dozen state workers who are transgender themselves, or who have transgender children. They are all members of the State Health Plan, which provides health insurance to more than 700,000 North Carolina teachers, state workers, retirees and their families.

They say the State Health Plan discriminates against them by not covering costs related to gender dysphoria, the medical term for when someone identifies as a gender different from their physical sex.

Max Kadel, a transgender man who works at UNC-Chapel Hill, said the State Health Plan will not cover breast-reduction surgery for him, even though it would cover a non-transgender man or woman who wanted the exact same surgery. That message of unequal treatment was echoed by another transgender man who is part of the lawsuit, former N.C. State University employee Sam Silvaine.

“I’ve been sent the message that my medical needs are not valid, and my mental and physical health are not important,” Silvaine said.

Silvaine, Kadel and others spoke at a press conference Monday morning in Durham, outside the federal courthouse where they filed the lawsuit.

Some children of state employees are also affected.

“Without this care, I struggle from depression and anxiety,” said Connor Thonen-Fleck, a 16-year-old from High Point who like Kadel and Silvaine was born female but now identifies and presents himself as male. Thonen-Fleck’s parents both work at UNC-Greensboro, and he and his parents said he would have surgery if it were still allowed by the State Health Plan.

The state changed its rules to allow such procedures in 2017, as well as other gender dysphoria treatments like hormone therapy and counseling — but then in 2018 reversed course and no longer allows for them to be paid for by the State Health Plan.

POLITICAL BACKGROUND

The State Health Plan is controlled by the state treasurer. When transgender state employees were covered in 2017 it was because in 2016 State Treasurer Janet Cowell, a Democrat, pushed for the plan’s board of trustees to vote to include transgender coverage.

When Dale Folwell, a Republican, replaced her in 2017 he had no plans to let that coverage continue, and the board has not voted to include it since then.

“I pledged to the people of North Carolina that we would reduce the state health plan’s $32 billion debt, provide a more affordable family premium especially for our lowest paid employees and provide transparency to the taxpayers,” Folwell told The News & Observer in late 2016, after he had been elected but before he took office. “The provision to pay for sex change operations does none of those three things.”

Folwell’s spokesman Frank Lester said Monday that he doesn’t typically comment on pending litigation, and also had not yet had the chance to look at the lawsuit. Folwell is among the state officials and entities being sued.

The State of Wisconsin lost a similar lawsuit last year, according to news reports,

‘FORCING US TO MAKE OUR PRIVATE LIVES PUBLIC’

Numerous medical authorities recognize gender dysphoria as a legitimate condition, leading transgender members of the State Health Plan to ask if discrimination is the real reason it’s not being covered like other legitimate medical conditions.

“Our plaintiffs are simply asking to be treated equally,” said Taylor Brown, one of the attorneys for Lambda Legal representing them. “Nothing more, nothing less.”

According to the North Carolina lawsuit, gender dysphoria can lead to people becoming depressed or suicidal if not addressed with proper medical treatment“Untreated gender dysphoria often intensifies with time,” the lawsuit says. “The longer an individual goes without adequate treatment, the greater the risk of severe harms to the individual’s health.”

Michael Bunting, an assistant athletic director at UNC-Chapel Hill, is also part of the lawsuit. He’s a UNC grad who has worked there for 30 years and didn’t want to bring the school into the lawsuit, he said, but felt he had no choice to help his 13-year-old son.

His son, identified only as C.B. in the lawsuit, was born female but has identified as male from a young age. He is in 8th grade and came out as transgender to his parents in 2017, at which point they started getting him medical treatments, only to have the cost skyrocket last year when the State Health Plan dropped the coverage.

Bunting said the lawsuit was their only resort after asking the State Health Plan’s board of trustees not to let the coverage go away, to no avail.

“This board is forcing us to make our private lives public,” Bunting said. But he and his wife Shelley decided to come forward, he said, because “our son is the bravest, most empathetic person we know.”

HRC announced the organization will honor six-time Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Christina Aguilera with the HRC Ally for Equality Award at the 2019 HRC Los Angeles Dinner. As previously announced, Yeardley Smith will also be honored with the HRC National Leadership Award. Set to take place on Saturday, March 30, 2019, at the JW Marriott L.A. LIVE, the event brings together more than 1,000 of HRC’s most active members and supporters in the greater Los Angeles area to raise crucial funds in the fight for LGBTQ equality.

“Christina Aguilera is a living legend and a true LGBTQ icon who consistently uses her global superstar platform to share a message of hope and inspiration to those who have been marginalized simply because of who they are,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “Through her powerful music and her tireless efforts for positive change, she is making a real difference in the lives of countless people while bringing greater visibility to the LGBTQ community. HRC is proud to honor Christina Aguilera with the HRC Ally for Equality Award at the 2019 HRC Los Angeles Dinner.”

From helping raise funds in the fight against HIV/AIDS to advocating for marriage equality and speaking out against anti-LGBTQ bullying, Christina Aguilera has long been an outspoken advocate for fairness and equality. In 2017, Billboard said she had earned her status as an LGBTQ icon “for advocating for LGBTQ equality and representation over the course of her career.” Aguilera’s 2002 single “Beautiful” was hailed as one of the most empowering LGBTQ anthems of all time and brought greater visibility to the LGBTQ community through representation in its celebrated music video. In a 2017 special love letter to the LGBTQ community, Aguilera said, “The LGBTQ community has never had it easy, the struggles each one of you faces daily on an individual level and on a broader political and cultural level are unimaginable, yet you keep fighting, you keep moving forward trailblazing and beating all odds with love always in your hearts.”

Aguilera‪ is renowned for her powerful voice and hit songs. Throughout her career, she has sold more than 43 million records worldwide. Aguilera has achieved five No. 1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 chart making her the fourth female artist to top the chart over three consecutive decades (1990s, 2000s, and 2010s). She has received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and holds the prestigious honor of being the only artist under the age of 30 included in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest singers of all time. In 2011 she entered the world of television as a coach on NBC’s Emmy Award nominated show The Voice. Aguilera has served as global spokesperson for Yum! Brands’ World Hunger Relief effort since 2009 and has helped raise over $150 million for the World Food Program and other hunger relief agencies. In May 2019 she will begin her residency, The Xperience, at the Zappos Theatre at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas.  Later this year she will also embark on The X Tour in Europe.

Last month, HRC announced that the organization will honor LGBTQ advocate Yeardley Smith with the HRC National Leadership Award at the event. Smith is an Emmy Award-winning actor and producer who has appeared on television, film, and Broadway, and has been the iconic voice of Lisa Simpson for over 30 years. A long-time, passionate supporter of the LGBTQ community, she was a leading advocate and contributor to the fight for marriage equality and was the single largest funder in the fight against California’s notorious “Proposition 8.” In the face of the Trump-Pence administrations relentless efforts to undermine and roll back the critical progress made for the LGBTQ community, Smith helped fund HRC’s unprecedented 2018 midterm efforts to mobilize voters and successfully flip the U.S. House of Representatives to a pro-equality majority.

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