Feb. 28 (UPI) -- Several transgender U.S. service members have told federal lawmakers for the first time their gender identity in no way impedes their ability to perform their military duties.
Five transgender military members described their experiences and expressed concerns Wednesday about the Trump administration's efforts to ban transgender persons from serving. The testimony was given to the House Armed Services Committee -- marking the first time Congress has heard testimony from active transgender service members
Service members said at the hearing, though, that gender identity has never affected their readiness.
"Each time a mission or capability-irrelevant barrier was removed, I rose to the occasion," Navy Lt. Commander Blake Dremann said in testimony Wednesday. "I succeeded as a submariner and was ranked the top supply officer out of 14 supply officers in the squad."
Army Capt. Alivia Stehlik, one of the first military personnel to openly talk about her transgender life in the military, said other soldiers trusted her after the transition. A West Point graduate, Stehlik is a physical therapist in the Army.
"They talked to me and told me things they never would have before," Stehlik said. "Things they said they've never told other people. I asked them why, and the consistent answer is that they valued my authenticity -- my courage in being myself. It allowed them to do the same thing."
About 15,000 transgender troops serve in the U.S. military. Last month, the Supreme Court cleared the way for the ban to take effect once the issue is settled in lower courts.
A federal appeals court has sided with the Trump administration on a ban against transgender persons joining the military, overturning a lower court's injunction. The administration has cited "tremendous medical cost and disruption" as reasons for the move.
"It is an unfortunate reality that not every person who desires to serve in the military meets the stringent medical and behavioral health standards needed to maintain a ready and resilient force," Mississippi Rep. Trent Kelly, the panel's ranking Republican, said at the hearing. "However, it only makes sense that any individual who can meet these standards and is otherwise qualified should be allowed to serve."
In a separate hearing, James N. Stewart, the Pentagon's top official for personnel policy, supported the policy, saying transgender members will be allowed to serve, but new recruits may be barred due to gender dysphoria.
The Pentagon said nearly 1,100 service members have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and Public Health Service on active duty and in the reserve force, USA Today reported. The department has spent nearly $8 million to treat more than 1,500 transgender troops since 2016, which included 161 surgical procedures.