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In a long-awaited move for members of the LGBTQ military community, President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Monday that repeals the Trump administration’s prohibition on transgender Americans serving openly in the military.
Under the Trump ban, the military could refuse to admit openly transgender recruits, and could move to discharge certain non-exempt service members (largely those who had not yet transitioned) if they attempted to receive medical care for or were diagnosed with gender dysphoria. The ban was estimated to affect up to 15,000 service members, according to the Transgender American Veterans Association.
Biden’s order repeals Trump’s ban and also contains a provision that military records should be corrected if qualified service members were discharged or prohibited from re-enlisting due to their gender identity, reports Axios.
“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,” the White House said in a statement. “Simply put, it’s the right thing to do and is in our national interest.”
Lambda Legal and the Modern Military Association of America, which filed a lawsuit three years ago to block Trump’s ban on behalf of six currently-serving service members, two potential recruits, and three LGBTQ rights organizations, praised Biden’s executive order as “a significant and hopeful moment for our country.”
“Over the last 3 years, we’ve fought to prove that transgender people are not a burden, a hindrance, or a distraction — we are an equal and contributing part of this society just as much as any other group, and this development vindicates that basic principle,” Staff Sgt. Cathrine Schmid, a 15-year active duty service member in the U.S. Army, said in a statement.
“This isn’t simply about our place in the military, or my place in my unit,” Schmid said. “It’s about our right to be treated as co-equal members of society. This harmful and backwards policy will now be put where it belongs: in a very short, shameful chapter of US military history.”
Kevin Jennings, the CEO of Lambda Legal, called the previous ban a “low-water mark” for the country and celebrated the idea of restoring the Obama-era policy of open military service.
“This discriminatory ban cheapened the bravery and patriotism of transgender service members and transgender people seeking to serve,” Jennings said in a statement. “We are grateful to see President Biden take action to relegate it to the trash bin of history, where it belongs.”
LGBTQ service member and veteran advocacy groups praised the executive order as a step towards respecting the contributions and talents of transgender individuals who enlist in the Armed Forces.
“President Biden’s restoration of open service recognizes transgender service members as an integral part of our military and closes a dark chapter of history,” Emma Shinn, the president of Service Members, Partners, Allies for Respect and Tolerance for All (SPART*A) and a captain in the U.S. Marine Corps, said in a statement. “I am elated that the approximately 15,000 transgender service members proudly serving across the globe can rest easier knowing that their service to our nation is seen, valued and that they can continue to serve as their authentic selves.”
Jennifer Dane, an Air Force veteran who serves as the executive director of the Modern Military Association of America, said Biden’s order would enhance national security by allowing qualified Americans to serve their country and focus their attention on accomplishing their mission, rather than worrying about being discharged due to a discriminatory policy.
Dane also expressed hope that Congress would take action to permanently enshrine the right of transgender military members to serve in the military into law, so that a future president who may be hostile to LGBTQ rights does not simply reverse Biden’s executive order and create more uncertainty for transgender service members.
“Reversing this ban is a victory for All Americans. President Biden has given the gift of opportunity to thousands of individuals who will use it to serve the country they love,” Bree Fram, vice president of SPART*A and a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force, said in a statement. “A military without the talents of transgender service members should be just as unconscionable as a military without African Americans, women, or lesbians, gays, and bisexuals.”
Erin Uritus, the CEO of Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, hailed the end of the ban, claiming the military’s return to an “open service” policy would lead other major employers to boldly pursue their own policies promoting transgender inclusion in the workplace.
“This reversal [of the Trump ban] demonstrates that for the world’s largest employer, the U.S. Defense Department, qualifications for a job should always supersede prejudice,” Uritus said. “This move will no doubt have reverberations across employers, many of which have invested in programs to support transgender and broader LGBTQ inclusion.”
Aaron Belkin, the director of the Palm Center, an organization dedicated to promoting open military service, also celebrated the return of inclusive policy at the Pentagon.
“Today, those who believe in fact-based public policy and a strong, smart national defense have reason to be proud. The Biden administration has made good on its pledge to put military readiness above political expediency by restoring inclusive policy for transgender troops,” Belkin said in a statement.
Belkin also noted that the Palm Center recently did an analysis finding that, because the Trump policy allowed a small minority of transgender service members who had already transitioned under the Obama administration’s open policy to continue serving, the Pentagon has a structure in place that could simply be expanded to include heretofore non-exempt military members and transgender recruits wishing to enlist.
That Palm Center memo estimated that, due to those factors, the Department of Defense should be able to transition to an “open service” policy in fewer than 30 days.
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