Three years after then-President Donald Trump tweeted that he would order a ban on transgender members, current President Joe Biden ordered the Pentagon to lift the policy during a meeting with its new Secretary of Defense and joint chiefs.
On Monday, Biden signed an executive order to return to a policy of trans-inclusion in the armed forces – it resembles, with a few exceptions, a policy first introduced by the Obama administration in 2016.
“President Biden believes that gender identity shouldn’t be a barrier to military service and that America’s strength lies in its diversity,” said a White House statement sent to reporters on Monday, according to a HuffPost report. “This question of how all qualified Americans can be enabled to serve in the military is easy to answer by recognizing our core values. America is stronger at home and around the world when it is inclusive. The military is no exception. “
LGBTQ advocates were encouraged by the news of Biden’s quick action. “This reversal shows that for the world’s largest employer, the US Department of Defense, job qualifications should always replace prejudice,” said Erin Uritus, CEO of Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, an LGBTQ employment advocate, in a statement . “This move will no doubt resonate with employers, many of whom have invested in programs to support transgender and broader LGBTQ inclusion.”
It’s difficult to count how many transgender troops are currently deployed, but a 2014 study by UCLA’s Williams Institute estimated that around 15,500 transgender people served in the U.S. military. It is generally accepted that the US military is the largest US employer for transsexuals.
Lifting the ban has been a central Democratic tenet since Trump first introduced the ban in 2017, and Biden had promised it on his first day in office. Although Biden did not reverse the policy on the first day and wanted to wait for Lloyd Austin to be confirmed by the Senate (which happened on Friday) in his new position as Secretary of Defense, his administration has already shown its commitment to reversing Trump’s anti-LGBTQ Guidelines.
The 14 executive measures he signed on the day of inauguration included an order to apply and expand non-discrimination protection for LGBTQ throughout the federal government, which resulted in a small but loud reprimand from conservatives and anti-trans activists. The lifting of the military ban was the next logical step in rolling back Trump’s anti-trans policies.
Trump’s military ban was the most public display of his administration’s anti-trans agenda
In June 2016, President Barack Obama became President Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that the DOD would lift its longstanding ban on transgender members, a holdover from the days leading up to the era of “queer enlistment,” where no one asked, no one told. Politics allowed trans people to engage and serve as much as cisgender people, removing decades of adverse barriers to service.
That policy was reversed fairly quickly under Trump, whose evangelical advisors sought a wide range of government restrictions on the lives of trans people, including those in the military.
Despite his administration’s record on the matter, Trump himself rarely mentioned trans people. An exception was his tweets on July 26, 2017, in which transsexuals were banned from the military.
“After consulting with my generals and military experts, it is advised that the United States government will not accept or allow transgender people in any capacity in the US military,” he said in a series of tweets, quoting the military as saying ” cannot be burdened with the enormous medical costs and disruption that transgender people in the military would bring. “
Although Trump noted the alleged cost of transitional medical care to justify his ban on trans troops, the military would only need $ 2.4 million to $ 8.4 million a year to complete, according to a 2016 report by RAND Corporation Pay for transitional care, a 0.4 to 0.13 percent increase in health care spending. The military spends five times as much on Viagra alone.
Ultimately, Trump’s exclusion policy took time to develop and implement, in part due to several federal lawsuits against the ban – only completed in January 2019. The policies of Trump’s military have forced all troops to serve and present themselves according to gender stereotypes and gender roles of their assigned gender at birth. In other words, trans women with gender dysphoria may continue to serve as long as they refrain from hormone replacement therapy, continue to be referred to by a masculine name and pronoun, and meet applicable male nursing and physical standards. Trans advocates compared it to violent conversion therapy.
Although the policy settled in troops who had already started transitioning when the policy came into effect, critics of the ban pointed out how blatantly transphobic such policies were.
The government, in turn, tried to argue in court that the policy was not a “ban” per se, as it allowed trans troops to serve – but only if they made a public commitment not to override. However, a transitional ban is effectively a ban on trans people.
What Biden’s command actually says and does
According to the Text of the implementing regulation“Involuntary separations, dismissals and refusals to reinstate or continue service based on gender identity or in circumstances related to gender identity” are now prohibited.
In particular, the ban on hiring new trans people is missing from this list of prohibited practices, which makes it unclear whether new hires can be discriminated against. The White House did not respond to Vox’s request for clarification.
As I reported earlier, the EO is not immediately reversing all restrictions on the trans service.
At the moment, gender dysphoria is not a cause for layoff, but trans recruiting is still on hold.
DOD and DHS must report to the Joint Chiefs within 60 days. pic.twitter.com/imsxIU6ntv
– Chris Johnson (@ chrisjohnson82) January 25, 2021
However, LGBTQ legal experts warned not to be quick to assess whether new hires are still banned. “I understand people are anxious to see the full order and confirm its scope, but I’m confident the intent is to include both the recruitment and continued service,” said Shannon Minter, legal director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, across from Vox before the text of the Executive Order was published. NCLR had previously sued the Trump administration over the ban.
The Executive Ordinance also orders the Pentagon to review the records of those dismissed under the Trump Directive and to develop clear guidelines for adjusting the records of those sentenced under the old directive.
Washington Blade’s Chris Johnson said Biden’s order gives Departments of Defense and Homeland Security 60 days to make progress on lifting the ban. The 60-day window is significantly longer than the 30 days the Palm Center, an independent, impartial public order think tank, estimated to lift the ban entirely.
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