Biden signs order reversing military transgender ban

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President Biden on Monday signed an executive order to remove restrictions on transgender Americans joining the military, reversing a controversial Trump-era Pentagon policy.

Mr. Biden’s order comes just days after new Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who has expressed support for reversing the transgender policy, assumed control at the Pentagon. The move was long expected to be one of Mr. Biden’s first executive orders.

“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 in a fact sheet laying out the new policy. “This question of how to enable all qualified Americans to serve in the military is easily answered by recognizing our core values. America is stronger, at home and around the world, when it is inclusive.”

“The military is no exception,” the White House said. “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.”

Mr. Biden’s order directs Mr. Austin and the Department of Homeland Security — which oversees the U.S. Coast Guard — to implement the order. Specifically, the directive “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.”

Some advocacy groups immediately praised the move and cast it as a key step in moving on from the Trump administration.

“For years, transgender patriots were forced to continue to hide their identity while serving in our military. But today, thanks to President Joe Biden, Secretary Lloyd Austin, and pro-equality voters across America, they may live and serve openly as themselves,” said Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a leading LGBTQ civil rights organization. “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.”

Mr. Biden’s order goes beyond addressing new recruits entering the Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Marines or Air Force. It also calls for the “identification and examination of the records of service members who have been involuntarily separated, discharged, or denied reenlistment or continuation of service on the basis of gender identity or under circumstances relating to gender identity, as well as the correction of the military records.” 

The Pentagon‘s transgender policy has gone through multiple overhauls over just the past four years. During the final months of the Obama administration, then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter said that transgender individuals already in the armed forces would be able to serve openly and no longer face the risk of discharge. The Obama administration called for the Pentagon to allow transgender Americans to enlist in the military beginning in July 2017.

But former President Trump upended that plan, declaring in July 2017 that transgender individuals could not serve in any capacity.

“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 said at the time.

By April 2019, the Pentagon adopted a policy that prohibited transgender individuals and recruits from transitioning to another sex. Troops could continue with hormone treatments and gender transition if they had been diagnosed with gender dysphoria.

Military officials have long argued that transgender Americans presented no problems for the military.

“We have a finite number,” Joints Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley said in 2018 while still serving as Army chief of staff. “We know who they are, and it is monitored very closely, because, you know, I’m concerned about that and want to make sure that they are, in fact, treated with dignity and respect.”

“I have received precisely zero reports” of problems, he said.

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