The Department of Defense on Wednesday — Transgender Day of Visibility — announced formal policy updates allowing open service by transgender members of the armed forces, implementing President Joe Biden’s executive order that lifted Donald Trump’s ban.
The policies, which go into effect April 30, ban discrimination based on gender identity or transgender status, provide a means to join the military in one’s self-identified gender once all appropriate standards are met, and make medically necessary treatment and gender recognition available to all service members, according to a Defense Department press release. The 30-day window is designed to give each branch of the armed forces time to update its own policies and provide guidance to commanders, troops, medical professionals, and others.
“There is no place for violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics,” Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby said in a news briefing.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin “strongly believes the all-volunteer force thrives when it is composed of diverse Americans who can meet the high standards for military service in an inclusive force,” Kirby said.
Under the Trump policy, which he announced via Twitter in 2017 and which went into effect in 2019, trans troops already serving under the policy of open service announced by President Barack Obama and his defense secretary in 2016 were essentially grandfathered into the military, although there were fears of a mass discharge. But the military took no new trans recruits unless they were willing to serve in the gender they were assigned at birth.
Several civil rights groups and trans individuals issued statements welcoming the Defense Department announcement. “President Biden has kept another promise to the LGBTQ community, ending the discriminatory and arbitrary prohibition on transgender military service started by the Trump administration,” said Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign. “The end of this ban is a win for equality, and it will only serve to strengthen the military as a whole. We are thrilled to see the Biden administration continue their commitment to equality for all.”
GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis added, “President Biden and the Pentagon have moved swiftly and certainly to undo the discriminatory and unjust transgender military ban put in place by the former President. This is a great day for America’s service members, who deserve a commander-in-chief who understands the service and sacrifice that come with putting on the uniform of the United States military. This will make our military more ready, more cohesive, and more equal.”
“It’s a relief to see the Pentagon releasing new policy guidelines reinforcing the end of the transgender military ban, and it’s especially meaningful to see this policy announced today, on Transgender Day of Visibility,” said Nicolas Talbott, an aspiring service member who was a plaintiff in one of the lawsuits challenging the Trump ban. “I look forward to seeing the military’s core values of fairness and respect reflected in a clear policy that welcomes all people who are qualified and willing to serve and I’m more confident than ever that when I apply to enlist, I will be judged on my skills and my accomplishments, instead of my transgender status, which has nothing to do with my ability to serve.”
“With this new set of regulations, the military is putting an end to an ugly and shameful chapter in our nation’s history and once again embracing our nation’s highest ideals of equal opportunity for all. The new policies recognize the contributions of transgender service members and will increase the strength and stability of our armed forces,” said Shannon Minter, Legal Director at National Center for Lesbian Rights, which represented Talbott along with GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders. “Increasing troops’ access to gender-affirming medical care will help transgender service members focus on their work, so they can do the best they can at their job, instead of having to worry about red tape stopping them from getting the health care they need.”
“With this policy, the Pentagon is setting a clear example for our federal government when it comes to fairness and equal opportunity,” said Jennifer Levi, director of the transgender rights project at GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders. “These policy changes are an important step toward strengthening the military. Of course, we still need comprehensive federal nondiscrimination protections like the Equality Act so that transgender service members are able to live with freedom and dignity whether in uniform or in civilian life.”
Biden also marked Transgender Day of Visibility by becoming the first U.S. president ever to issue a proclamation recognizing the day.