Aspiring United States Air Force pilots can skip the fitness test if they are transgender and in the process of transitioning, according to new protocol determined by military officials and made public last week.
Transgender pilots who are in the middle of hormone treatment won’t have to retake the exam, which includes pull-ups, pushups, and running, if they have already failed it — so long as the Air Force commander sees that the individual “tried to the best of their ability” to meet the standards associated with their preferred gender.
“Transgender Airmen serve alongside us with integrity, service, and excellence,” said Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James in a statement. “This is another step in allowing transgender Airmen to serve openly, receive medical care relating to gender transition, and allow transgender individuals to join the Air Force.”
In the U.S. Air Force, the term “Airman” is used to refer to any member of the force, regardless of gender.
“Our strengths as a military are the quality and character of our people, and those things that make us unique are the same things that make us strong,” James said.
The memo also clarifies lingering questions around lodging, appearance, and bathroom protocol for transitioning airmen. Those individuals typically will have to use the lodging, bathroom, and shower facilities, and adhere to the grooming standards, of their gender as assigned at birth while they are transitioning.
After a medical professional has deemed an airman’s transition complete, their gender marker will be changed in the military personnel database, and they will be free to use facilities and grooming standards in accordance with their preferred gender. The new guidance says airmen can request exceptions to the policy that would allow them to wear the uniform and facilities of their preferred gender before they have completed the transition process.
The new protocol for transgender airmen comes on the heels of several other major trans-related announcements by the Department of Defense. In June, the Pentagon said it would lift the ban on transgender service members in the U.S. Army. Last month, the Pentagon announced it would start providing transgender service members with all “medically necessary” treatment, effective Oct. 1, including gender-affirming surgery where recommended.
The Army also announced last month that it would pay for gender-affirming surgery for Chelsea Manning, the former military intelligence analyst now imprisoned for whistleblowing.
The National Center for Transgender Equality estimates that more than 15,000 trans individuals are serving in the military today, and that more than 134,000 American veterans are transgender.
“It is the Department’s position, consistent with the U.S. Attorney General’s opinion, that discrimination based on gender identity is a form of sex discrimination,” the new protocol states. “In today’s Air Force, people of different moral and religious values work, live, and fight together on a daily basis. This is possible because they treat each other with dignity and respect.”