Transgender people are now allowed to serve in the military, according to a new policy announced by Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Thursday. That means these individuals can go to war and bravely fight for their country without fear of being discharged or denied re-enlistment.
But when they come home as civilians, it will be legal to fire them.
Although a handful of states have laws barring workplace discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, there are still no federal protections for sexual orientation and gender identity.
Announcing the historic military policy change, Carter told reporters, "This is the right thing to do for our people and for the force. We're talking about talented Americans who are serving with distinction or who want the opportunity to serve. We can't allow barriers unrelated to a person's qualifications to prevent us from recruiting and retaining those who can best accomplish the mission."
The move was widely viewed as the last step in the 2010 repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," the federal law that barred LGBT people from serving openly in the armed forces.
Congress, however, has so far taken no action on the Equality Act, which would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of already protected classes (race, color, sex, religion and national origin). On the federal level, it's still legal to discriminate against LGBT people not only in the workplace, but also in providing them access to credit, education, housing, federal financial assistance, jury service and public accommodations.
"I'm proud that the Pentagon has taken this step to ensure transgender individuals can serve our country openly, but there is much more work to be done until all LGBT Americans are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve," said Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), one of the lead sponsors of the Equality Act. "In most states, you can get married on Saturday, post your wedding photos to Facebook on Sunday, and then lose your job or get kicked out of your apartment on Monday just because you're LGBT."
In recent months, the issue of public accommodations has become a major issue nationwide. States like North Carolina and cities like Houston have pushed back against efforts to outlaw LGBT discrimination, driven by conservative activists and politicians who have scared the public into thinking that male sexual predators could claim transgender status to enter women’s restrooms and assault women.
In other words, it's fine to risk your life for your country as a service member, but don't you dare try to use the restroom that corresponds with your gender identity when you come back.
This article has been updated to include Cicilline's comment.