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As the three-year anniversary of the day when President Trump first announced his ban on transgender troops on Twitter nears, advocates for open military service have released a policy memo explaining how the ban could easily be reversed in under 30 days.
The memo, authored by retired Rear Admiral Alan Steinman, M.D., the former Surgeon General equivalent of the U.S. Coast Guard, was released on the website of the Palm Center, a think tank that advocates for LGBTQ people to serve openly. It was endorsed by nine major military, LGBTQ, and progressive groups who support ending the Trump administration’s severe restrictions on transgender service — which require transgender individuals to continue serving in their assigned sex at birth or risk being discharged — and claims that the service branches have all the infrastructure and required elements that would allow them to rapidly reverse the ban.
The Trump ban kept in place a two-tiered system regarding transgender personnel. New recruits and other more recent personnel are prohibited from undergoing a gender transition while serving, but some transgender individuals who had transitioned under the Obama administration’s policy allowing transgender people to serve openly were “grandfathered,” allowing them to stay in their current positions. As a result, the ban could easily be reversed by eliminating the two-tier system and applying the criteria for “grandfathered” personnel equally to all service members.
“A big ship can take time to turn around, so often the Pentagon needs to study policy changes and move cautiously,” Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, said in a statement. “But this is the rare case where, since the military left inclusive policy for already-serving transgender personnel in place even as it implemented its ban, the switch is just waiting to be flipped.”
Steinman, the memo’s author, noted in a statement that the memo provides a “roadmap” of the steps needed to reverse the ban, without requiring the government to redevelop guidance, redraft regulations, or retrain service members.
The groups endorsing the memo include the Center for American Progress, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), the Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal, the Modern Military Association of America, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the National Center for Transgender Equality, Service Members, Partners, Allies for Respect and Tolerance for All (SPART*A), and the Transgender American Veterans Association.
“Ending the ban on transgender service members is the right path forward to ensure military readiness,” Jennifer Levi, the director of GLAD’s Transgender Rights Project, said in a press release. “As this report shows, the military can simply and easily revert to the prior open service policy. Transgender troops have shown they can serve with dedication and honor. What they need — and what our country needs — is for the current roadblock to their service to be removed.”
“Time and again, the justifications for the administration’s transgender military ban have been disproven and shown to be based on nothing more than discrimination,” Jennifer Dane, interim executive director of the Modern Military Association of America, said in a statement. “In order for the military to recruit and retain the best and brightest our nation has to offer, it’s crucial that the Department of Defense return to an inclusive policy.”
Emma Shinn, the president of SPART*A, a group representing actively serving transgender military members, said the organization would welcome a return to open service for transgender service members.
“Palm’s plan details how to return to recognizing the value of strength through diversity,” Shinn said. “We have proven that transgender service members accomplish the mission every day, across the globe, and in harm’s way. Returning to open service, as this plan ensures, helps attract and retain those willing to serve.”
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