President Joe Biden has reversed the ban on transgender military service members previously enacted by the Trump Administration.
Biden signed the executive order on Monday, January 26 in the Oval Office. He was joined by Vice President Kamala Harris, the new Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley.
The policy reversal ensures that all Americans who are qualified to serve in the Armed Forces of the United States should be able to do so. Biden said 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 the executive order “ensures that America can build a more inclusive and more effective force, making America stronger at home and around the world.”
There are thousands of transgender members of the U.S. military, according to a report commissioned by the Department of Defense (DOD). After an extensive study by the Pentagon, the Obama administration and military leadership moved forward in 2016 with the elimination of the transgender military ban and allowed transgender service members to serve openly. In July 2017, President Trump announced (via Twitter) a full ban without any consultation with Pentagon leaders.
Advocates said Biden’s executive order will have a positive impact on the lives of the approximately 11 million LGBTQ adults in the U.S.
“For years, transgender patriots were forced to continue to hide their identity while serving in our military. But today, thanks to President Joe Biden, Secretary Lloyd Austin, and pro-equality voters across America, they may live and serve openly as themselves,” said Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a civil rights organization working to achieve equality for the LGBTQ community. “The government will begin the process to eliminate an arbitrary and discriminatory executive action that has not only harmed transgender service members but our entire military. The greatest military in the world will again value readiness over bias, and qualifications over discrimination.”
David J. Johns is Executive Director of the National Black Justice Coalition, a civil rights organization that centers LGBTQ communities of color. “Prejudice and discrimination against the various identities that make a person who they are should never be justified or legalized by our government,” he told ESSENCE.
“For Black transgender people, much like the rest of the Black community, the military is often a gateway to an affordable or free education, and often provides a pathway out of poverty,” Johns added. “Transgender people deserve to be respected and protected in every avenue of their lives, including their jobs. We applaud this decision to allow transgender people to live openly and freely as themselves, especially while working for [the military], one of the largest employers in the United States.”
The order follows the Biden administration’s expressed commitment to LGBTQ equality. Last week, on day one of the new administration, the President released an executive order that implements the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the consolidated cases Bostock v. Clayton County, Altitude Express v. Zarda and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC.
Bostock v. Clayton is a landmark case in which the Supreme Court held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees against discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Unlike the prior statutory ban that interfered with lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members from serving (known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”), the ban on transgender military service was regulatory and only required action by the DOD to update. Biden’s order marks the first step in that action.