President Joe Biden on Jan. 25 reversed the ban on transgender individuals serving in the military, opening the door to thousands barred from service and correcting the service record of anyone affected by the ban.
The executive order, announced before Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III’s swearing-in ceremony at the White House, reverses an order from former President Donald J. Trump that cited “tremendous medical costs and disruption” from transgender individuals serving in uniform. The order reverts to the Pentagon’s prior position of allowing transgender people into the military, so the DOD can recruit and retain “those who can best accomplish the mission.”
“President Biden believes that gender identity should not be a bar to military service, and America’s strength is found in its diversity,” the White House said in a statement. “This question of how to enable all qualified Americans to serve in the military is easily answered by recognizing our core values. America is stronger, at home and around the world, when it is inclusive. The military is no exception. 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.”
In a statement following the executive order, Austin said the Pentagon will immediately take steps to ensure individuals who identify as transgender are able to enlist and serve in their self-identified gender.
“These changes will ensure no one will be separated or discharged, or denied reenlistment, solely on the basis of gender identity,” Austin said.
Additionally, all medically necessary transition-related care will be available to service members.
“We would be rendering ourselves less fit to the task if we excluded from our ranks people who meet our standards and who have the skills and the devotion to serve in uniform,” he said. “This is the right thing to do. It is also the smart thing to do.”
A 2016 study by the RAND Corp. estimated there are between 1,320-6,630 transgender service members in Active duty, but that number varies widely based on a lack of data and current military policies. The same study estimated that Active component health care costs would increase by between $2.4 million and $8.4 million annually if DOD covered transition-related care.
The White House in its statement pointed to a 2016 DOD study that noted that “open transgender service has had no significant impact on operational effectiveness or unit cohesion in foreign militaries,” and testimony in 2018 by each service uniformed leader stated that they were not aware of issues of unit cohesion.
The White House also said the Pentagon would report back in 60 days on its progress implementing the order.
Trump first announced the ban in July 2017 on Twitter, saying “please be advised that the United States government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the US military.” Days later, then-Defense Secretary James N. Mattis delayed implementation so the policy could be reviewed.
Advocacy groups on Jan. 25 lauded the ban’s reversal. In a joint statement, the Service Members, Partners, Allies for Respect and Tolerance for all and the Modern Military Association of America said the move is a “victory” for inclusion in the government.
The reversal “enhances national security by allowing otherwise qualified Americans to serve their country, and for transgender people already serving to reach their full potential,” said Jennifer Dane, MMAA executive director and Air Force veteran, in the statement.