President Joe Biden has signed an executive order lifting the transgender military ban.
“President Biden believes that gender identity should not be a bar to military service, and that America’s strength is found in its diversity,” says a White House fact sheet released Monday morning. “America is stronger, at home and around the world, when it is inclusive. The military is no exception. 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.”
Biden had said that lifting the ban would be one of his first actions as president.
The actual order, made available a few hours after the fact sheet, states, “It shall be the policy of the United States to ensure 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.”
Donald Trump announced the ban via Twitter in July 2017, claiming that allowing trans people to serve openly interfered with military readiness and that their health care was too costly for the government to support. Numerous studies have contradicted such claims, and Biden referred to them in the fact sheet.
The ban took effect in 2019. There has not been a mass discharge of the thousands of trans people who were already serving, as most of them are considered “grandfathered” in, but new enlistments of trans people have been blocked.
The order directs the secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security to “immediately prohibit involuntary separations, discharges, and denials of reenlistment or continuation of service on the basis of gender identity or under circumstances relating to their gender identity.” They are also tasked with establishing a process under which military members can transition while serving and take all other steps necessary to implement the order.
The fact sheet does not specifically address new enlistments, but it does say Biden’s action revokes Trump’s orders. And Defense Department spokesman John Kirby told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell that trans people who meet all other qualifications for military service can enlist. The Trump policy had claimed trans people can enlist in the military but said they had to serve in their “biological sex.” Today’s White House fact sheet says trans service members can serve in their gender when transition is complete. And the order’s statement that all trans individuals who wish to serve in the military and meet the qualifications will be able to do so affirms that they will be allowed to enlist, as does a statement from Lloyd Austin, the newly confirmed secretary of Defense.
“The Department will immediately take appropriate policy action to ensure individuals who identify as transgender are eligible to enter and serve in their self-identified gender,” Austin said. “These changes will ensure no one will be separated or discharged, or denied reenlistment, solely on the basis of gender identity. Prospective recruits may serve in their self-identified gender when they have met the appropriate standards for accession into the military services. This revised policy will also ensure all medically-necessary transition related care authorized by law is available to all Service members and will re-examine all cases of transgender Service members that may be in some form of adverse administrative proceedings.”
LGBTQ+ rights organizations expressed confidence that enlistments by trans people will begin soon. “Transgender people will be able to join the military openly, although the military has not yet indicated the timing of when that will occur,” Peter Renn, counsel with Lambda Legal, told The Advocate via email. “Discharges of transgender people currently serving, however, have been put to an immediate stop.”
Josh Block, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT and HIV Project, said in a conference call that one effect of Biden’s order will be to bring trans service members out of the shadows, as those who were not serving openly when Trump’s ban was issued will be able to come out without fear of discharge. Also, while those who had received a diagnosis of gender dysphoria before the ban were able to receive treatment, including surgery, through the military, those diagnosed afterward were not. Now they will have access to all necessary treatment, he said.
He also said that he expects the military to be enlisting trans recruits soon, possibly in as little as 30 days. He pointed out that the order is not self-executing but must be implemented by the federal departments affected. The Defense Department oversees the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines, while the Coast Guard is under the purview of Homeland Security.
President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Ash Carter had lifted an earlier ban in 2016; before that, service members could be subjected to discharge if their transgender status became known, and trans people were barred from enlistment. Unlike the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on service by lesbian, gay, and bisexual people, the trans ban could be lifted by executive action, as it was a matter of military policy and not a law passed by Congress.
Several lawsuits had been filed against Trump’s ban. The groups that filed them, on behalf of trans people currently serving in the military, those desiring to enlist, and other LGBTQ+ organizations, said they expect the suits to be resolved soon, given Biden’s action today. Those filing the suits include Lambda Legal, the ACLU, GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
These organizations and others have issued statements effusively praising Biden’s lifting of the ban.
“President Biden’s order allows us to put this shameful episode behind us and marks the beginning of a much brighter era in which military service is once again based on a person’s qualifications, not on who they are,” said Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights. “Transgender people have proved their fitness to serve and ask nothing more than the opportunity to do so based on the same standards that apply to others. This is a great day for our nation and a welcome relief from the negative and divisive policies of the past four years.”
“For years, transgender patriots were forced to continue to hide their identity while serving in our military. But today, thanks to President Joe Biden, Secretary Lloyd Austin, and pro-equality voters across America, they may live and serve openly as themselves. The government will begin the process to eliminate an arbitrary and discriminatory executive action that has not only harmed transgender service members but our entire military,” said Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David; HRC is a plaintiff in one of the suits. “The greatest military in the world will again value readiness over bias, and qualifications over discrimination. The order follows the Biden administration’s commitment to LGBTQ equality, including the issue of a substantive LGBTQ executive order on day one that implements the Supreme Court’s Bostock ruling. In the coming months, the Human Rights Campaign will work with the White House and Department of Defense to ensure open service proceeds smoothly and ensure every qualified patriot has an equal right to serve openly, free of discrimination.”
“Today, those who believe in fact-based public policy and a strong, smart national defense have reason to be proud,” said Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, a think tank on the military and sexual minorities. “The Biden administration has made good on its pledge to put military readiness above political expediency by restoring inclusive policy for transgender troops. The ban will now be replaced with a single standard for everyone that, as in the successful previous policy, will apply equally to all service members. This is a major step in the defense not only of America but of American values. We look forward to a speedy implementation of inclusive policy.”
“Donald Trump’s ban was dehumanizing, harmful to military readiness, and rooted in the same bigotry that defined his entire administration,” said Winnie Stachelberg, executive vice president for external affairs at the Center for American Progress. “Military personnel disagreed with it. Human rights activists disagreed with it. The American people disagreed with it. President Biden’s swift and decisive action to repeal the ban ensures that no American will be forced to choose between living openly as themselves and serving their country.”
The nation’s top medical group lauded the lifting of the ban as well. “The AMA welcomes the president’s decision to reverse the policy that largely barred transgender people from serving in the military because there is no medically valid reason to exclude them,” said a statement from Susan R. Bailey, president of the American Medical Association. “Transgender people have served our country with honor, and they should be allowed to continue doing so. Ending this discriminatory policy is a win for all patriotic Americans who want to serve their country.”