Joe Biden’s administration is reversing a Donald Trump-era ban on transgender individuals serving in the military, framing it as “the right thing to do” and in the national interest.
“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 statement announcing the move.
Mr Biden’s executive order on Monday fulfils a campaign pledge to revoke Mr Trump’s ban. It is the latest move by the new administration to undo rapidly much of Mr Trump’s legacy at home and abroad.
“America is stronger, at home and around the world, when it is inclusive. The military is no exception,” the White House statement said.
Mr Biden has promised to promote diversity through his policies and among his cabinet. His pick as defence secretary, Lloyd Austin, is the first African-American Pentagon chief in US history. Mr Biden also picked Rachel Levine as his assistant secretary of health, who would be the first openly transgender federal official to be confirmed by the Senate.
Mr Austin said he fully supported Mr Biden’s decision, and that his department would update policy to ensure individuals who identify as transgender were eligible to enter and serve in accordance with their self-identified gender over the next 60 days.
“These changes will ensure no one will be separated or discharged, or denied reenlistment, solely on the basis of gender identity,” he said. The revised policy would also ensure all medically-necessary transition-related care authorised by law was available to all service members, he added.
Mr Trump had first ordered the transgender ban in a trio of tweets in 2017 that took senior Pentagon officials by surprise, coming shortly after the ban had been lifted by the Obama administration. The Department of Defense subsequently ruled transgender service would be limited solely to those pre-transition, among other restrictions, in 2019.
Mr Trump claimed that having transgender service members would “burden” the military with “tremendous medical costs and disruption”, and that the US military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory.
Senior military leaders subsequently testified to Congress that they were not aware of any problems resulting from transgendered individuals serving openly.
A 2016 study requested by the defence department found that enabling transgender individuals to serve openly had no significant impact on operational effectiveness or unit cohesion in foreign militaries. It would have only a minimal impact on military readiness and healthcare costs, the study concluded.
Palm Center, an independent institute that researches sexual minorities in the military, estimated in 2018 there were 14,700 transgender US military service members, before Mr Trump took steps to ban them.
Scholars at the institute argued in a report last year that the ban had hurt military readiness because it harmed recruitment, unit cohesion, morale and discipline. The institute also found that the Pentagon spent a tiny proportion of its heath care budget on gender transition for the few years it was legal.