WASHINGTON — The Pentagon on Wednesday scrapped restrictions on transgender troops imposed by the Trump administration, and unveiled new rules designed to end discrimination and provide medical care for those service members.
The Defense Department’s new policy will permit troops to serve openly under their self-identified gender and will offer access to medical treatments for gender transition, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters.
The move restores Pentagon policy on transgender troops to where it stood before Donald Trump entered office in 2017, Kirby said. The Trump administration largely banned transgender people from serving openly in the military.
The announcement followed a two-month review by the Pentagon designed to develop detailed guidelines for the military after President Joe Biden issued an executive overturning Trump’s policy. Biden’s executive order, issued shortly after his inauguration, barred any transgender service member from being kicked out of the force based on gender identity.
The new regulations, which are due to enter into force within 30 days, permit transgender people who meet military standards to enlist and serve openly in their self-identified gender, and they will be able to receive medically necessary transition-related care as allowed under the law.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also has ordered the department to review the records of troops who were discharged or denied the chance to re-enlist because of gender identity issues under the previous policy. It’s unclear how many service members were forced out due to the Trump-era ban.
“The secretary of defense strongly believes that the all-volunteer force thrives when it is composed of diverse Americans who can meet the high standards for military service,” Kirby said, and that an “inclusive force” strengthens U.S. national security.
Transgender advocates welcomed the decision.
“We applaud this step to ensure the Department of Defense provides inclusive policy to attract and retain the best and brightest our nation has to offer,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Bree Fram, who is vice president of SPART*A, a transgender military advocacy group.
“Military personnel reach maximum effectiveness when they have access to all medically necessary care and we are excited that this policy extends that access to transgender service members,” Fram said in a statement.
Former President Trump blindsided military leaders in 2017 when he tweeted that a total ban would be imposed on transgender people serving in the military. A Pentagon panel drafted regulations for the ban but the policy was blocked by federal judges until the Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that it could go ahead.
In 2018, the chiefs of all the military services told lawmakers that they had found no negative effects from having transgender troops serve, and no evidence that it damaged discipline, morale or unit readiness.
Estimates vary about how many troops identify as transgender, with officials in 2019 putting the number at about 14,700.
Stephanie Miller, director of military accession policy at the Defense Department, said Wednesday about 2,200 service members have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria.
Miller said the cost of providing medical treatment to transgender service members would be modest and have no major impact on the Pentagon’s medical budget.