An executive order signed Monday requires both the Pentagon and the Homeland Security Department, which oversees the Coast Guard, to remove gender identity as a bar to service.
“The all-volunteer force thrives when it is composed of diverse Americans who can meet the rigorous standards for military service, and an inclusive military strengthens our national security,” according to a release from the White House.
The move puts to bed a controversy that began in July 2017, when Trump tweeted that “after consultation with my generals and military experts” he would no longer allow transgender Americans to serve in the military.
That announcement, which took nearly two years to put into policy, came just over a year after then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter officially lifted the Defense Department’s long-standing ban on transgender service members, after which the services implemented policy that allowed currently serving troops to undergo transitions to their preferred gender and be recognized as such in DoD personnel systems.
A transgender accessions policy had not yet been implemented, but experts at the time suggested requiring that an openly transgender recruit be several years post-transition in order to join up.
A 2018 Palm Center study estimated that there are approximately 14,700 transgender troops currently serving, across the active-duty and reserve components.
“This discriminatory ban was cruel and unnecessary from its inception, and we hope that its reversal sends a clear message to transgender and nonbinary youth everywhere that they should be proud of who they are, that they are deserving of our country’s respect, and that they have the right to serve with honor,” Amit Paley, executive director of The Trevor Project, said in a statement.
Biden’s order immediately shuts down any involuntary separations or denials of continued service based on gender identity, according to the release.
“Simply put, transgender service members will no longer be subject to the possibility of discharge or separation on the basis of gender identity; transgender service members can serve in their gender when transition is complete and the gender marker in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) is changed and transgender service members should know that they are accepted throughout the U.S. military,” the release said.
Previously, Pentagon policy allowed troops to create individual transition plans with their military health care providers, hammering out the kinds of medical intervention they would prefer, from hormone therapy to surgeries.
“Today, those who believe in fact-based public policy and a strong, smart national defense have reason to be proud,” Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, said in a statement. “The Biden administration has made good on its pledge to put military readiness above political expediency by restoring inclusive policy for transgender troops.”
Multiple studies and surveys dating back to 2017 have found broad support for transgender service members among currently serving troops, as well as no evidence that transgender troops ― either through their medical needs or their presence in units ― have a detrimental effect on readiness.
“These facts were confirmed by testimony in 2018 to Congress by the then-serving chief of staff of the Army, chief of naval operations, commandant of the Marine Corps, and chief of staff of the Air Force that they were not aware of any issues of unit cohesion, disciplinary problems, or issues of morale resulting from open transgender service,” according to the White House statement.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Acting Homeland Security Secretary Pete Gaynor have 60 days to report to the White House their progress in overturning the ban, per the executive order.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.