President Joe Biden has repealed Donald Trump’s 2019 guidance that banned transgender people from enlisting and serving in the military, part of a broader effort to undo the former president’s transphobic and regressive policies.
“President Biden believes that gender identity should not be a bar to military service, and that America’s strength is found in its diversity,” reads a White House statement sent to reporters on Monday.
“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 statement reads. “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.”
Biden signed an executive order to repeal the ban at a ceremony with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ― who said at his confirmation hearing last week that he supports the decision.
“I truly believe ... that if you’re fit and you’re qualified to serve and you can maintain the standards, you should be allowed to serve,” Austin said at the time. “And you can expect that I will support that throughout.”
The secretary will order the Pentagon to return to the 2016 policy enacted by former Defense Secretary Ash Carter, which allowed transgender Americans to serve openly in the military.
“I’m grateful that the ‘coast is clear’ so to speak to allow me and other trans folx breathing room to keep carving more progress for better equality.”
Less than a year into his presidency, Trump announced in a series of tweets that he planned to ban transgender people from serving in the military in “any capacity,” citing “tremendous medical costs and disruption” that he claimed comes with employing trans personnel.
The controversial policy, implemented in April 2019, stated that transgender people were only allowed to enlist in the military under the sex they were assigned at birth. The policy effectively banned trans people from enlisting in the military, while forcing current trans service members back into the closet.
“I honestly feel incredibly light today. I hadn’t realized how much this fight had weighed me down, how much it had made me resentful, both at home and at work,” Brock Stone, an 11-year Navy veteran and transgender man who is one of several plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the Trump administration over its ban on trans service members, said in an email to HuffPost.
“It is certainly a relief knowing that the very highest levels of my leadership are no longer out to get me,” he wrote. “I’m grateful that the ‘coast is clear’ so to speak to allow me and other trans folx breathing room to keep carving more progress for better equality.”
Nicolas Talbott, an aspiring trans service member who is a plaintiff in another lawsuit against Trump, also applauded Biden’s repeal of the ban in a Monday statement to press.
“It is my highest goal to serve my country in the U.S. military and I’ve fought this ban because I know that I am qualified to serve,” said Talbott. “I’m thrilled and relieved that I and other transgender Americans can now be evaluated solely on our ability to meet military standards. I look forward to becoming the best service member I can be.”
Three in five adults support allowing openly trans people to serve in the military, including a majority of military households and young Republicans, according to new research from The Trevor Project and Morning Consult.
Biden is also expected to reinstate and create other LGBTQ protections in the coming months. He has pledged to reinstate a Title IX rule that protects transgender students’ right to use the bathroom that best aligns with their gender identity, rather than their biological sex. Trump had repealed the Obama-era federal guideline, leaving states to make their own rules on the issue.
“Even before taking office, President Biden demonstrated that he values transgender Americans and recognizes that there is no place for discrimination in the federal government,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. “The new president has made clear his agenda for ensuring that transgender Americans are treated fairly and with respect. Today’s action is one step forward and ensures that anyone who is willing to serve and is able to serve has that opportunity.”
Advocates told Reuters that they expect Biden will add the option of “X” as a gender marker on federal identification documents, such as passports. Biden also said during his presidential campaign that he plans to push through and sign the Equality Act, a civil rights law that gives federal protections to LGBTQ people in areas including employment, housing, credit, education and more.