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At military schools, transgender bathroom decisions will be made case by case

February 25, 2017 (Photo Credit: Senior Airman Sandra Marrero/Air Force)
WASHINGTON — Defense Department schools have stopped enforcing an Obama-era directive affording protections to transgender students, instead deferring to individual administrators on the sensitive issue of bathroom and locker room access, Military Times has learned.

The shift occurred quietly sometime after Obama left office in January, according to Defense Department officials familiar with the decision, and was disclosed this week only after the Trump administration ordered public school administrators to stop following a similar federal policy. School principals — in consultation with individual students, their parents, teachers and other school staff — will "address concerns and identify solutions" case by case, defense officials said. 

This approach is consistent with practices in use before last October, when an incident at Ramstein Air Base in Germany prompted a senior Pentagon official to issue the controversial policy granting students access to facilities consistent with their gender identity. That directive extended to all Defense Department youth programs and other activities as well. Its author, then-Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower and Reserve Affairs Todd Weiler, was an Obama appointee. He left the department in January.

In announcing Trump's guidance to public schools on Wednesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Obama's policy failed to adequately explain how it's consistent with the law, known as Title IX, which prohibits discrimination in educational programs, activities and facilities operated by institutions that receive federal funding. The Pentagon is "in receipt of the directive from the Departments of Justice and Education and is reviewing it carefully to ensure policy and program compliance,” said Army Lt. Col. Myles Caggins, a spokesman.

“DoD is committed," he added, "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.”

It's unclear how many military families include transgender children. Some estimates suggest it’s less than 1 percent. While the Obama-era policy has not been formally rescinded, it is no longer being enforced, according officials who spoke to Military Times on the condition of anonymity.

“This is the first we’ve heard of this. It’s extremely frustrating,” said Ashley Broadway-Mack, president of the American Military Partners Association. The advocacy organization has more than 7,000 members, she said, adding that, so far, no one has reported any issues if school officials have begun working with students and parents case by case. 

The Trump administration, she noted, said it’s up to Congress, state legislatures and local governments to adopt policies or laws addressing the public school issue. “So if DoD is rolling back their policy, is it up to [each] installation?” Broadway-Mack said.

“They owe the military community an explanation. ... We need to know what this looks like for the military community.”

There has been no change to the policy, approved in July, allowing transgender military personnel to serve openly and seek related medical care, Caggins said. Associated rules effect everything from military recruitment to grooming standards and the type of uniforms personnel wear. 

He declined to say whether the Defense Department intends to review this policy in the future. That remains a concern for the estimated 7,000 transgender troops who serve in the active-duty military. 

Andrew deGrandpre is Military Times' senior editor and Pentagon bureau chief. On Twitter: @adegrandpre. Karen Jowers is Military Times' senior writer reporting on military families.  
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