U.S. President Joe Biden has issued an executive order that overturns a Trump administration ban on transgender people serving in the U.S. military.
“What I’m doing is enabling all qualified Americans to serve their country in uniform, and essentially restoring the situation as it existed before, with transgender personnel, if qualified in every other way, can serve their government in the United States military,” Biden told reporters.
In 2016, then-President Barack Obama allowed transgender people to join the military and to receive transition-related medical care. His successor, former President Donald Trump, banned recruitment of transgender people, but allowed those already in the military to continue serving. Trump argued allowing transgender people to serve would be disruptive and expensive.
Biden’s order also includes a review to identify U.S. service members who may have been involuntarily separated, discharged or denied reenlistment to the military due to Trump’s order.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he supports the policy change.
“I fully support the President’s direction that all transgender individuals who wish to serve in the United States military and can meet the appropriate standards shall be able to do so openly and free from discrimination,” he said in a statement. “The Department will immediately take appropriate policy action to ensure individuals who identify as transgender are eligible to enter and serve in their self-identified gender.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the Trump ban “a cruel and arbitrary decision designed to humiliate transgender Americans who have stepped forward to serve our country.”
“Democrats’ defense strategy will be dictated by the priorities of security, stability, peace and American values – not the hate and prejudice that defined the Trump presidency,” she said in a statement.
The Washington-based Human Rights Campaign tweeted, “A grateful nation salutes all who have served and hoped for this moment. … If you fight for your country, you deserve a country that will fight for you.”
There is no official data on the number of transgender people serving in the military and estimates vary widely. Gays and lesbians gained the right to serve openly in the U.S. military during Obama’s first term, when Congress repealed a law that subjected them to expulsion if their sexuality became known.