Biden Overturns Trump Ban on Transgender Troops

Alicia Ault

January 25, 2021

President Joseph R. Biden has overturned the ban on transgender people serving in the US military ordering that it must accept all Americans willing to serve and stating that gender identity should not prevent individuals from enlisting or serving.

The Executive Order reverses a Trump administration policy that prevented transgender individuals from joining the military and discharged anyone who sought to transition. Although it was announced in 2017, a flurry of lawsuits kept it from taking effect until 2019, soon after the US Supreme Court said enforcement could proceed while litigation in the lower courts continued.

"It is my conviction as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces that gender identity should not be a bar to military service," said Biden in the executive order. "Moreover, there is substantial evidence that allowing transgender individuals to serve in the military does not have any meaningful negative impact on the Armed Forces," he said.

The Biden order will restore the policy that existed under President Barack Obama's administration.

The American Medical Association (AMA) said it welcomed Biden's order. "There is no medically valid reason to exclude" transgender individuals, said AMA President Susan R. Bailey, MD, in a statement. "Ending this discriminatory policy is a win for all patriotic Americans who want to serve their country," Bailey noted.

The American Psychiatric Association has voiced its opposition to a ban on transgender service multiple times over the past few years, most recently in April 2019 when the Trump policy went into effect.

"We look forward to a speedy implementation of inclusive policy," said Aaron Belkin in the same Palm Center statement. Belkin is director of the Palm Center, a nonpartisan research institute that conducts scholarly analysis of US military personnel policy, with a focus on LGBTQ populations.

"Incredible Victory"

The Palm Center issued a report in November that found the Trump administration policy had harmed recruitment, retention, unit cohesion, morale, medical care, and good order and discipline. The organization has estimated that just under 15,000 transgender individuals serve in the military.

"This is an incredible victory for our clients and sends a message that transgender people not only belong in our armed services, but in our country," tweeted the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented multiple individuals who sued the Trump administration.

"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," Shannon Minter, legal director of another organization that sued over the Trump policy, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said in a release.

Retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Ann Murdoch, president of the Transgender American Veterans Association (TAVA), said in a statement that "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."

For years, transgender patriots were forced to continue to hide their identity while serving in our military, according to the Human Rights Campaign. However, 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 Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign.

At least one US politician, Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, seemed to take issue with Biden's order, tweeting: "Another 'unifying' move by the new Administration?"

Service Members Reinstated

The Biden order not only allows anyone to enlist and serve if they meet the qualifications set by the various service branches, but it also directs the military to establish a process so that personnel can transition during service.

The order would also let service members seek reinstatement, "should they wish to do so and meet the current entry standards," according to the order.

The order also gives protections to anyone currently serving, stating that it prohibits involuntary separations, discharges, and denials of reenlistment or continuation of service based on gender identity or under circumstances relating to gender identity.

Military officials should examine the records of any service members and correct any "injustice" that was meted out because of an individual's gender identity, according to the order.

Biden gave the military 60 days to report on its progress. The newly sworn in Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, reportedly said at his confirmation hearing that he supported overturning the ban on transgender service. 

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