Trans Military Rights Take Focus in Latest Biden Policy Reversal

Marking Transgender Day of Visibility on Wednesday, the Pentagon is set to roll out new military regulations that provide support for transgender service members.

President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House last Thursday. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Poles apart from Trump-era regulations that banned most transgender people from serving in the military, the Pentagon said Wednesday it will announce new policies that not only allow trans service members to serve but offer them increased medical care and assistance during transition. 

The Department of Defense’s new regulations follow through on an executive order President Joe Biden issued during his first week in office, reversing a ban put in place by his predecessor in 2017. 

Finalized after two months of review under Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the Pentagon plans to announce the new rules Wednesday on what is celebrated as International Transgender Day of Visibility. These rules will ban discrimination based on gender identity in the military and allow transgender individuals who meet the military’s standards to enlist and serve using the gender they identify as. Transgender troops will also have authorized access to transition-related care, according to officials who spoke under the condition of anonymity to the Associated Press.

These policies stand in stark opposition to those of former President Donald Trump, who 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 wrote.

Trump made that order official in a presidential memo a month later. Although federal judges found the ban was likely unconstitutional, the U.S. Supreme Court entered a stay in 2019 that allowed it to go forward pending appeal. In April of that year, the Department of Defense approved the policy banning transgender troops and military recruits from pursuing transition and required most service members to serve as their assigned sex at birth. 

This policy grandfathered in transitioning transgender troops who had already enlisted before this date, allowing them to continue with plans for hormone treatments and transitions. But no new potential recruits who had been diagnosed with gender dysphoria were allowed to enlist and transgender troops who had already been diagnosed with gender dysphoria were forced to serve as their birth-assigned genders and forbid from taking hormones or having transition surgery.

Alabama Rep. Neil Rafferty speaks in support of transgender rights during a rally outside the State House in Montgomery on Tuesday. (Jake Crandall/The Montgomery Advertiser via AP)

When Biden issued his executive order on Jan. 25, he blocked “involuntary separations, discharges, and denials of reenlistment or continuation of service on the basis of gender identity,” and required military officials to examine and correct the military records of service members who were discharged or denied reenlistment based on their gender identity under the Trump administration’s policy.  Results of this review have yet to be released.

“President Biden believes that gender identity should not be a bar to military service, and that America’s strength is found in its diversity,” the White House said on the order in January. “America is stronger, at home and around the world, when it is inclusive. The military is no exception.” 

The policies the Biden administration plans to release Wednesday mimic those developed in 2016 under Biden’s old running mate, former President Barack Obama in 2016, allowing open service to transgender people.

According to the first-ever official count of active duty transgender service members in 2019, roughly 8,980 troops on active duty and 5,727 in the reserves identify as transgender. Estimates from this study indicate that transgender troops make up roughly 0.7% of military personnel. 

The Pentagon has reported spending about $8 million on transgender care over the course of three years between 2016 and 2019 — split apart by year, the numbers would make up a small sliver of the military’s annual health care budget, which sits around $50 billion.

A RAND study, commissioned by the Defense Department and released in 2016, showed the small number of transgender service members — estimated to be in the thousands — receiving medical treatments would have little financial impact on the military’s overall budget. It also showed no evidence of transgender people having “an effect on operational effectiveness, operational readiness or cohesion.”

“Only a small portion of service members would likely seek gender transition-related medical treatments that would affect their deployability or health care costs,” found Agnes Gereben Schaefer, the study’s lead author.

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