Biden reverses Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the military
President Biden by executive order repealed the Trump ban on transgender people in the military on Monday.
President Biden on Monday ended former President Trump’s ban on transgender individuals serving in the military, signing the executive order during an Oval Office meeting with new Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III.
Transgender service members will no longer be discharged and can be identified by their preferred gender once their transition is complete and recorded in the Defense personnel system.
“America is stronger, at home and around the world, when it is inclusive. The military is no exception,” the order says. “Allowing all qualified Americans to serve their country in uniform is better for the military and better for the country because an inclusive force is a more effective force. Simply put, it’s the right thing to do and is in our national interest.”
The order is among the flurry Biden has issued in his first days as president to dismantle Trump policies that critics have considered discriminatory. Biden has also overturned a Trump ban on travelers from several predominantly Muslim countries, halted construction of the wall at the U.S.-Mexico border and launched an initiative to advance racial equity.
The Trump transgender policy, put in place in 2017 with the backing of then-Defense Secretary James N. Mattis, was itself a reversal of President Obama’s decision a year earlier to allow transgender troops to serve openly.
The restrictions went into effect in 2019 after two years of court challenges. They required service members and those wishing to join the military to adhere to the standards associated with their biological sex and prohibited current service members from transitioning to a different gender if they wanted to remain in the military.
Transgender recruits have been largely blocked from joining the armed forces since the Trump move. Biden, who had promised to lift the ban during his presidential campaign, told reporters at the White House that his order “is reinstating the position ... other secretaries have supported,” which allows all “qualified Americans to serve their country in uniform.”
New recruits may join “in their self-identified gender” as long as they meet “the appropriate standards for accession into the military services,” the Pentagon said, and any service member disciplined or discharged under the Trump policy will have their cases reexamined. The new policy will provide that “all medically necessary transition-related care authorized by law is available to all service members,” the department said.
The change has the support of Austin, a retired four-star Army general who was confirmed to the Pentagon’s top civilian post Friday. He called for overturning the ban during his Senate confirmation hearing last week. On Monday he issued a statement of endorsement: “I fully support the president’s direction that all transgender individuals who wish to serve in the United States military and can meet the appropriate standards shall be able to do so openly and free from discrimination.”
Advocates applauded the action.
“President Biden’s restoration of open service recognizes transgender service members as an integral part of our military and closes a dark chapter of history,” said Emma Shinn, a Marine captain and president of Service Members, Partners, Allies for Respect and Tolerance for All, a transgender rights group.
Aaron Belkin, executive director of the Palm Center, a research group that favored lifting the ban, said: “The Biden administration has made good on its pledge to put military readiness above political expediency by restoring inclusive policy for transgender troops.”
The Pentagon keeps no data on the number of transgender personnel. Outside groups estimate there are 1,300 to 15,000 transgender troops in the military, which has an active-duty force of about 1.3 million. A 2016 study requested by the department “found that enabling transgender individuals to serve openly in the United States military would have only a minimal impact on military readiness and healthcare costs,” the White House said.
But conservative groups disagreed and criticized the action. Retired Lt. Gen. Tom Spoehr, a national security expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said the Biden move “will contribute to a reduced level of military readiness in our armed forces, which are already hard-pressed to defend American interests around the globe.”
In 2016, the Obama administration announced that transgender people already serving in the military would be allowed to serve openly, ending a long-standing policy that allowed the military to discharge them, and set July 1, 2017, as the start date when transgender individuals would be allowed to enlist.
Trump delayed the enlistment date in 2017. In a series of tweets in July of that year that surprised the Pentagon, he declared that transgender individuals would not be allowed to serve “in any capacity” in the military.
“Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail,” Trump wrote.
After a lengthy legal battle and additional reviews, the Defense Department in April 2019 approved a policy that fell short of an all-out ban but barred transgender troops and recruits from transitioning to another sex and required most individuals to be identified by their birth gender.
Mattis directed development of the new policy, claiming it would ensure that all service members were held to the same standards for deployment. As of last July, at least three transgender troops were being processed for involuntary separation and, as of February, two had been considered for waivers, according to a Pentagon report to Congress.
The report also said 19 people were medically disqualified from enlisting or commissioning as an officer based on the Trump administration’s transgender policy: 11 in the Army, seven in the Navy and one in the Air Force. Of those 19, none was considered for a waiver, and none ended up enlisting or commissioning, according to the report, which was first obtained by the Hill newspaper.
At least 197 service members have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria since the Trump administration’s policy took effect. Of those, 12 were referred to the Pentagon’s Disability Evaluation System, which determines whether a service member will remain on duty or face discharge, according to the report. Eleven were in the Army; one was in the Navy.
The Supreme Court in January 2019 denied the Trump administration’s request that it hear legal challenges to the transgender military ban, allowing cases to proceed in the lower courts. But the high court allowed the Trump policy to go into effect while challenges were pending.
Biden’s order directs the departments of Defense and Homeland Security to take steps to implement the order for the military and the Coast Guard, and to reexamine the records of service members who were discharged or denied reenlistment due to gender identity issues under the previous policy. The departments must report to the president on their progress within 60 days.
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