The US Supreme Court has allowed the Trump administration’s restrictions on transgender people from serving in the military to take effect while court challenges continue. 

The policy generally bars transgender people from the armed forces unless they serve "in their biological sex" and do not seek to undergo gender reassignment surgery. 

It reverses a policy introduced by President Barack Obama’s administration which allowed transgender troops to undergo gender transitions while continuing to serve.

The military announced in 2016 that transgender people already serving in the military would be allowed to serve openly. And the military set July 1, 2017, as the date when transgender individuals would be allowed to enlist.

When President Donald Trump came into office his administration delayed the enlistment date. Mr Trump then announced a new policy on Twitter in late July 2017 that the country would no longer "accept or allow" transgender Americans to serve in the military, citing "tremendous medical costs and disruption".

A revised policy under the Trump administration stated that transgender individuals with a history of gender dysphoria are barred from military service "except under certain limited circumstances".

The policy faced legal challenges almost as soon as it was announced and judges in several states issued nationwide injunctions blocking it. 

The Supreme Court split 5-4 on Tuesday on allowing the policy to take effect, with the court’s five conservatives allowing it and its four liberal members dissenting. 

The US Solicitor General Noel Francisco, representing the administration, had argued that the injunctions represented a troubling phenomenon and the proposal must be allowed to be put into effect.

“Unfortunately, this case is part of a growing trend in which federal district courts, at the behest of particular plaintiffs, have issued nationwide injunctions, typically on a preliminary basis, against major policy initiatives,” Mr Francisco wrote. 

“In less than two years, federal courts have issued 25 of them, blocking a wide range of significant policies involving national security, national defense, immigration and domestic issues,” he wrote.

The Trump administration had also asked the Supreme Court to take up cases about the policy directly, an unusual request when an appeals court has not yet ruled, but the court declined.

Those cases will continue to move through lower courts and could eventually reach the Supreme Court again. However, the fact that five justices were willing to allow the policy to take effect for now, however, makes it more likely the policy will ultimately be upheld.  

The revised policy blocks transgender individuals with a history of gender dysphoria, a conflict with their birth gender, from service. It makes exceptions for the several hundred service members who were diagnosed after the Obama administration’s policy took effect.

The policy allows transgender individuals without the condition to serve, but only if they do so according to the sex they were assigned at birth.

The US military has said that over 900 men and women have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria and began or completed their transition during the Obama administration. A 2016 survey estimated that about 1 percent of active duty service members, about 9,000 men and women, identify as transgender.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, people with gender dysphoria experience distress or discomfort as a result of a disparity between a their biological sex (assigned at birth) and what they feel their gender to be. The organisation says that not all transgender individuals suffer from gender dysphoria.

Lawyers for active-duty service members challenged the policy and said there was no need to upend the status quo while the case proceeded.

“Transgender people have been serving openly in all branches of the United States military since June 2016, including on active duty in combat zones,” their brief said. “The government has presented no evidence that their doing so harms military readiness, effectiveness or lethality,” the brief said.

It added that the hundreds of people allowed to continue serving under the new policy “cannot be squared with the government’s claims of urgency to eliminate all other transgender personnel.”

After the Supreme Court ruling Lt. Col. Carla Gleason, a Pentagon spokesperson, said: "As always, we treat all transgender persons with respect and dignity. The proposed policy is not a ban on service by transgender persons. It is critical that the Department of Defense be permitted to implement personnel policies that it determines are necessary to ensure the most lethal and combat effective fighting force in the world."

Groups fighting the Trump administration’s policy said they ultimately hoped to win their lawsuits against the policy. "The Trump administration’s cruel obsession with ridding our military of dedicated and capable service members because they happen to be transgender defies reason and cannot survive legal review," Jennifer Levi, director of GLAD Transgender Rights, said in a statement.

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