Navy: no exceptions to fitness standards for transgender sailors

A new 12-page handbook released by the Navy today describes in detail when and how a sailor can complete a gender transition, down to how transgender sailors can participate in urinalysis tests and when it is appropriate to wear clothing of a preferred gender during visits to foreign ports.The guidance also contains a caution for sailors hoping to transition: they will be expected to pass the physical fitness requirements of their preferred gender immediately on transition, and are expected to take the initiative to train to those standards in advance.

As of Oct. 1, sailors were allowed to begin the process to change their official gender designation in personnel systems in accordance with a Pentagon mandate. Beginning in November, the Navy will dispatch mobile training teams to all major commands to explain the new policies and what they mean for the fleet. By July of next year, the Navy and all the other armed services will be accepting transgender applicants into ranks.

Also read: 3 myths about the new military retirement system

But the new guidance from the Navy makes clear that readiness will remain a top priority, even as sailors transition.

“There are no separate or distinct standards for transgender Service members,” the Navy administrative message containing the new guidances reads. “Service members and [military medical providers] must carefully consider the time required to adjust to new PRT standards as part of the medical treatment and transition planning process.”

Screen grab from video highlighting changes to Navy PFA | Navy Video

Screen grab from video highlighting changes to Navy PFA | Navy Video

The Navy’s physical readiness test, or PRT, has different requirements for men and women at every age group. For example, male sailors between the ages of 20 and 24 max out the PRT with 87 push-ups, a 1.5-mile run in 8 minutes, 30 seconds or less, and a 500-yard swim in six minutes, 30 seconds. Women in the same age group need to complete only 48 push-ups, a 1.5-mile run in 9 minutes, 47 seconds, and a 500-yard swim in seven minutes, 15 seconds to max out.

Meanwhile, height and weight standards also differ for male and female sailors. A male sailor who is within standards at 5′ 3″, 155 pounds and plans to transition to female must then meet standards for female sailors, which set the maximum weight for that height at 152 pounds.

Only a military medical provider can determine if a medical waiver is justified for sailors who are out of standards as they transition, the guidance states.

When and how to transition

In order to complete a gender transition while in uniform, sailors must receive an official diagnosis from a military doctor indicating that gender transition is medically necessary, according to the guidance. That diagnosis, along with a medical treatment plan, then must be reported to the appropriate unit commanding officer to for approval of the timing of medical treatment, taking into consideration when the sailor will rotate to another command, deployment and other operational schedules, and how the transition will affect career milestones. If a specific case requires immediate medical treatment, the guidance states it will be treated like any other medical emergency affecting a sailor. In these cases, the sailor may be transferred to limited duty status and “result in an unplanned loss to the command,” according to the Navadmin.

The commanding officer must respond to transition requests within 90 days, according to the new policy. The CO is allowed to take into account impact to the current mission, including “morale, welfare, and good order and discipline of the command,” when determining timeframe to respond to transition requests.

Gender transition treatment plans will differ from sailor to sailor and may include behavioral health counseling, hormone therapy, surgery, and real-life experience, the Navy’s term for for dressing and behaving in public as the preferred non-birth gender.

Sailors are allowed to begin participating in real-life experience before their gender transition is complete and their official gender has been changes in the personnel enrollment system, but must do so only in off-duty status, according to the guidance. All official unit functions, on-base or off, are considered to be on-duty status for sailors, making them off limit for real-life experience outings. And sailors deployed aboard ship face significant limitations: whether working or not, they are considered on-duty on ship at all times. While they can venture out in the clothing of their preferred gender during foreign port visits, these too are subject to restrictions and cultural sensitivities of the country in question.

“Commands need to be cognizant of host-nation laws and social norms when considering RLE in an off-duty status in foreign nations,” the guidance states. “Travel warnings, the State Department’s country-specific website, the DoD Foreign Clearance Guide, and any U.S. regional military commander directives should be reviewed and heeded.”

During transition, some missions may be off-limits for sailors. Transitioning sailors will be restricted from flying and diving ops during medical treatment and there may be limitations for sailors who have access to nuclear weapons, and chemical and biological weapons.

“The Navy’s bureau of Medicine is studying the effects of medical treatments associated with gender transition on members of the aviation and diving communities,” officials with Naval Personnel Command said in a statement.

Gender transition is only complete after a military doctor documents that the service member has completed required medical treatments and written permission from the commanding officer to change the official gender marker in the appropriate personnel administrative systems. While Defense Department guidance says no sailor may be kicked out of the service on the basis of being transgender, sailors are advised to consider the needs of the service when choosing how and when to transition. Transition should be completed during one tour of duty to avoid interrupting medical treatment and requiring additional coordination and a new transition plan, which may disrupt operational requirements at a new command. And transition during boot camp or service academy training is not advised.

“A service member is subject to separation in an entry-level status during the period of initial training … based on a medical condition that impairs the Service member’s ability to complete such training,” the guidance states.

Keeping the fleet comfortable

As a result of transgender sailors being permitted to serve openly, the entire fleet may get a little more modest.

Nudity in berthing and shower facilities is out, according to the guidance, and sailors must maintain a “minimum standard of coverage” walking through spaces, while sleeping, and while using bathrooms and washrooms, in order to show courtesy for others and maintain good order and discipline, according to the guidance.

Unit commanders are prohibited from creating exclusive berthing or bathroom facilities for transgender sailors, but are expected to use their discretion to enact appropriate policies to ensure the protection of privacy for individual sailors.

For urinalysis drug tests, which require that one sailor observe another procure the urine sample, the observer will be another of the same designated gender. But there may be adjustments to ensure the relative comfort level of the observer and the observed. These will be written into a future policy, the Navadmin states.

Though the details may be challenging, Navy officials said the service wants to make sure all qualified personnel find their place in the fleet.

“Our goal is to ensure that the mission is carried out by the most qualified and capable service members,” officials with Naval Personnel Command said in a statement. “If an individual can meet the Navy’s standards, they should be afforded the opportunity to serve.”