April 12 (UPI) -- The Pentagon's controversial policy change that affects transgender members of the military takes effect Friday after months of criticism and arguments in federal court.
The change requires members of the U.S. armed forces to follow military standards associated with their birth gender. It also prohibits people who've received transitional therapies from joining the military, even if they can prove stability in their preferred gender, and bars treatments for members diagnosed with gender dysphoria -- a condition of distress resulting from "incongruence" with one's birth sex.
Members who are already in the process of receiving medical treatment can continue under the new policy. Existing service members already in their preferred gender before Friday will be grandfathered in under the prior policy that allowed them to serve openly.
The Pentagon said the change is not a ban on transgender individuals and emphasized that "all persons will continue to be treated with dignity and respect."
"There's transgender people who have been scrambling to try to hurry up, come out and begin the transition process so that they can be included in this so-called grandfathered group," National Center for Lesbian Rights attorney Shannon Minter said. "So that has been a source of enormous stress and anxiety."
The change has been in the works for more than a year and the issue has been raised in federal court. Multiple lawsuits attempting to stop the change were unsuccessful but delayed its implementation. A federal judge lifted the final injunction last month, but there are still multiple suits still pending that argue the Pentagon's change is unconstitutional.
The American Medical Association said Thursday it's "troubled" by the change because it characterizes gender transition as a "deficiency."
"The [Department of Defense] regulation also instructs service secretaries to add gender dysphoria to service-specific lists of 'administratively disqualifying conditions" that DOD regulations label 'congenital or developmental defects," AMA President Barbara McAneny said in a statement. "The only thing deficient is any medical science behind this decision.
"The AMA has said repeatedly that there is no medically valid reason -- including a diagnosis of gender dysphoria -- to exclude transgender individuals from military service."
McAneny said the AMA played a lead role in educating the military and the public that sexual orientation and gender identity are not psychological or medical disorders.
The U.S. Navy will allow sailors to dress as "their preferred gender" when they aren't on duty, allowing them to "live socially" when not in uniform. They were provided a dress code earlier this week.
"There is no policy that prohibits the ability of a service member to express themselves off-duty in their preferred gender," the dress code guidance said. "Appropriate civilian attire, as outlined in their uniform regulations, will not be determined based on gender."
Transgender Chief Petty Office Melody Stachour supports the Navy's policy because he said it allows transgender individuals to be supported as much as possible while being "constrained" by the new policy.
"This is not just good for the sailors, but also for the Navy," Stachour said. "It allows them to retain sailors who are doing an excellent job ... while acknowledging that they are still required to follow the orders given by their seniors."