Biden Reverses Trump Ban on Transgender Military Service

The move was backed by newly confirmed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who told senators last week that anyone who is qualified should be allowed to serve in the military.

U.S. soldiers take part in multinational military exercises outside Tbilisi, Georgia, in 2017. (AP Photo/Shakh Aivazov, file)

(CN) — President Joe Biden signed an executive order Monday morning repealing the Trump administration’s ban on transgender citizens serving openly in the military. 

Former President Donald Trump instituted the ban in 2017, reversing the Obama administration’s policy allowing open service to transgender people. Biden’s order restores his former boss’s policy.    

The order immediately prohibits “involuntary separations, discharges, and denials of reenlistment or continuation of service on the basis of gender identity or under circumstances relating to gender identity,” the White House said in a statement Monday.  

“President Biden believes that gender identity should not be a bar to military service, and that America’s strength is found in its diversity,” it said. “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.” 

The order also requires the immediate examination and correction of military records for service members who were discharged or denied reenlistment based on their gender identity under the Trump administration’s policy.  

Transgender service members will now be allowed to serve in their preferred gender once their transition is complete and their gender marker in the defense reporting system is recorded. 

During his Senate confirmation hearing last week, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he would support a move to overturn the policy. 

“If you’re fit and you’re qualified to serve and you maintain the standards, you should be allowed to serve,” he said. 

Trump announced on Twitter in July 2017 that the government wouldn’t accept or allow transgender individuals 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,” he tweeted.  

Trump’s order was made official in a presidential memo a month later. The decision reversed a 2016 policy initially approved by the Obama administration which would have allowed transgender people already serving in the military to serve openly.  

Although Trump’s ban was initially blocked by federal courts, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed it to go forward in 2019. The Department of Defense approved the policy banning transgender troops and military recruits from pursuing transition in April of that year and required most service members to serve as their assigned sex at birth. 

The Human Rights Campaign applauded the Biden administration’s decision to eliminate the policy Monday, calling the ban an “arbitrary and discriminatory executive action that has not only harmed transgender service members but our entire military.” 

“The greatest military in the world will again value readiness over bias, and qualifications over discrimination,” Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement. 

The Transgender American Veterans Association called Monday’s order a “vital action to restore the military’s focus on an individual’s ability and not discriminate based on one’s identity.” 

“Transgender and gender nonconforming patriots have been serving in the US Armed Forces since 1776 with great distinction and we celebrate the fact that they can now do so openly, without fear of politically driven discrimination,” Ann Murdoch, TAVA president and a retired Army lieutenant colonel, said Monday. “Transgender troops are tough, resilient and accustomed to overcoming adversity and reflect great credit on themselves, the US military, and our great nation.” 

According to a 2016 Department of Defense survey, an estimated 1%, or 8,980, of active duty troops are transgender.

Biden has asked for a progress report from the departments of Defense and Homeland Security within 60 days. 

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