Metro Weekly

House passes National Defense Authorization Act with LGBTQ-inclusive amendments

Amendments require analysis of effects of transgender ban, and allow discharged soldiers to upgrade their discharge classification

U.S. Capitol Building – Photo: Raul654, via Wikimedia.

On Friday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted on a largely party-line basis to approve the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, which includes three pro-LGBTQ amendments, including one that would allow any qualified transgender person to serve in the U.S. military.

Eight liberal Democrats voted against final passage of the bill despite agreeing with the pro-LGBTQ amendments contained in the NDAA. All Republicans and independent Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan also voted against the bill. Primary opposition to the bill was based on funding levels, with those on the left believing it appropriated too much military spending, and those on the right believing it did not provide for enough spending.

As passed, the NDAA contains the Speier Amendment, introduced by U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), which would codify nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ service members and overturn the Trump administration’s policy seeking to ban, or significantly limit the numbers of, transgender troops in particular.

The Human Rights Campaign praised passage of the trans-inclusive bill. 

“Today’s vote sends a powerful message to our transgender troops, their families, and their fellow service members that they have our country’s full support,” HRC National Press Secretary Sarah McBride said in a statement. “We are grateful to all the troops and veterans who spoke out against this discriminatory ban, and to our partners who helped lead the fight.”

Under the so-called “Mattis Plan,” transgender personnel are prevented from enlisting or serving openly in the U.S. military unless they can prove they have not been diagnosed with gender dysphoria, do not attempt to transition, and adhere to physical and grooming standards based on their assigned sex at birth. Opponents of the plan say that its requirement that soldiers remain in their biological sex while serving is effectively a ban, requiring transgender people to deny their true identity.

The House version of the NDAA also contains an amendment from Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) that would make it easier for service members discharged for their sexual orientation under the now-defunct “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy to upgrade or amend their discharge characterization. And it contains an amendment from Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.) that would require the Pentagon to provide a report analyzing the effect of the military’s ban on transgender personnel.

Pocan noted in a press release that his amendment would require the Department of Defense to correct and amend the records of soldiers discharged due to their sexual orientation, allowing them to receive an honorable discharge, which in turn would make it easier for them to find employment and allow them to access certain military benefits.

“Today is a significant moment for the more than 100,000 Americans estimated to have been discharged from the military since World War II due to their sexual orientation,” Pocan said in a statement. “I’m grateful for my colleagues support of this critical amendment and I hope that the Senate will include similar language in its version of the bill and send it to the President’s desk to become law.

Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan — Photo: Todd Franson

The bill, complete with inclusive amendments, now heads to the Conference Committee, which will reconcile the differences between the House version of the NDAA and the Senate version, which contains no pro-LGBTQ provisions.

The Modern Military Association of America, which sent a letter to members of Congress earlier this week lobbying on behalf of the Speier Amendment, praised the passage of the LGBTQ-inclusive NDAA.

“By passing the NDAA with these incredibly important amendments, the U.S. House of Representatives just sent a powerful message of support to all of the brave patriots who serve our nation in uniform — including LGBTQ service members and veterans,” Navy veteran and MMAA Executive Director Andy Blevins, said in a statement.

“Rep. Speier’s nondiscrimination amendment would strengthen military readiness and rightfully restore the ability of qualified transgender patriots to serve our country openly and authentically,” Blevins added. “Rep. Pocan’s amendment would help to restore honor to the tens of thousands of gay, lesbian and bisexual service members who were discharged from the military under former discriminatory policies. As the legislation now goes to conference committee, we urge members of Congress to ensure both of these amendments are in the final reconciled version of the NDAA.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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