WASHINGTON, June 5 (UPI) -- The Air Force announced a policy Thursday that makes it more difficult to discharge transgender service men and women, offering greater protections against discrimination based on gender identity.
The move comes two months after the Army made a similar policy, inching the nation's military closer to allowing openly transgender troops. Before this new policy, soldiers diagnosed with gender dysphoria, or those who identify as the opposite sex, were discharged from service based on medical grounds with decisions made by doctors and unit commanders. A psychologist or psychiatrist had to approve any recommended discharge over gender dysphoria, and a unit commander had to determine if the condition disrupted the individual's performance.
The new Air Force policy now requires high-level Air Force officials to render those decisions.
"Though the Air Force policy regarding involuntary separation of gender dysphoric airmen has not changed, the elevation of decision authority to the director, Air Force Review Boards Agency, ensures the ability to consistently apply the existing policy," said Daniel Sitterly, a top Air Force official.
In March, the Army's policy change was the first hint at the Pentagon's slow push for greater inclusiveness. Thursday, Air Force Secretary Deborah James told USA Today he was open to ending any restrictions against transgender soldiers entering the military.
The Pentagon is currently reviewing transgender issues in the military, but a decision is not likely to come for months. The last review was in 2011.
"From my point of view, anyone who is capable of accomplishing the job should be able to serve," James said. "I wouldn't be surprised if this came under review."
The American Military Partner Association, the nation's largest organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender military families, praised the policy change and called for a closer review of "outdated regulations."
"This is a huge step in the right direction for our transgender airmen and their families, but they are still threatened by outdated regulations preventing them from serving openly and honestly," said AMPA President Ashley Broadway-Mack. "Transgender service members sacrifice so much for our nation, and they should be able to serve openly, honestly, and treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. A service member's gender identity has nothing to do with the ability to get the job done."