President Joe Biden will soon reverse the ban on transgender people serving openly in the military, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement Wednesday.
While the reversal was not one of the 15 actions the new administration announced it would take Wednesday, Day One of the Biden presidency, Psaki said it would be among the “additional executive actions” that will be taken “in the coming days and weeks.”
Biden had previously vowed to reverse the Trump administration’s transgender military policy “on Day One” of his administration. However, his nominee for secretary of defense, Lloyd Austin, is still going through the confirmation process, though it is not known whether this is the reason the reversal is not part of the president’s Day One agenda.
During his Senate hearing Tuesday, Austin, who would be the first Black defense secretary if confirmed, said that he supports reversing the ban on trans people from serving openly.
“If you’re fit and you’re qualified to serve and you can maintain the standards, you should be allowed to serve and you can expect that I will support that throughout,” he said.
Before Austin can be officially confirmed, Congress has to waive a rule that requires former military service members to have been retired for seven years before they can serve as defense secretary. The House will vote on the waiver Thursday, and the Senate vote will follow, though it is unclear when.
In a series of unexpected tweets in July 2017, then-President Donald Trump announced transgender people would be barred from serving in the military “in any capacity,” reversing a policy decision announced by the Obama administration in June 2016.
While the Trump administration maintained its policy was not a “ban,” it did prevent transgender people who plan to pursue gender-affirming hormones or surgery from enlisting. Transgender individuals who were already serving openly were grandfathered in, meaning they could continue to serve. But those service members who came out as trans after the policy could not pursue transition and were required to serve as their assigned sex at birth.
Thousands of transgender people already serve in the military. A 2016 Department of Defense survey estimated that 1 percent, or 8,980, active duty troops were transgender. Using the same data, the Palm Center, which studies LGBTQ people in the military, estimated that an additional 5,727 transgender people were in the Selected Reserve, bringing the total estimated number of transgender troops serving in 2016 to 14,707.
Blake Dremann, a transgender advocate and an active-duty lieutenant commander in the Navy, is among those looking forward to the ban’s reversal.
“We are excited for the ban to be lifted and we never have to tell another service member that being their authentic selves is a barrier to serving their nation,” Dremann, who serves as treasurer of the LGBTQ military group Sparta, told NBC News in a statement. “The resilience and success of trans service members has shown we are committed to the success of the Nation.”
A fact sheet on Biden’s website laying out his Day One plan includes issuing an executive order to build on the Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, which granted federal employment nondiscrimination protections to LGBTQ people. According to the plan, the forthcoming order "builds on" the Bostock decision and "will also direct agencies to take all lawful steps to make sure that federal anti-discrimination statutes that cover sex discrimination prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, protecting the rights of LGBTQ+ persons."