WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Monday signed an executive order repealing the ban on transgender people serving openly in the military, a ban that former President Donald Trump had put in effect, the White House said.
In a statement, the White House said Biden's order "sets the policy that all Americans who are qualified to serve in the Armed Forces of the United States should be able to serve."
"President Biden believes 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.
Biden's order "immediately prohibits involuntary separations, discharges, and denials of reenlistment or continuation of service on the basis of gender identity or under circumstances relating to gender identity," the White House said
The order also directs the immediate "correction of" military records for any who had been affected by Trump's ban.
Biden’s action to reverse the ban had been widely expected. He had vowed to reverse the Trump administration’s transgender military policy “on Day One” of his administration, and White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Inauguration Day that the move was imminent.
Psaki said last Wednesday that the action would be among the “additional executive actions” that will be taken “in the coming days and weeks.”
During his Senate confirmation hearing last week, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said he supports reversing the ban. “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.
Human rights groups immediately lauded the move by Biden.
“Today, those who believe in fact-based public policy and a strong, smart national defense have reason to be proud. The Biden administration has made good on its pledge to put military readiness above political expediency by restoring inclusive policy for transgender troops," said Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, a nonpartisan organization that studies LGBTQ military issues. “The ban will now be replaced with a single standard for everyone that, as in the successful previous policy, will apply equally to all service members."
“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. 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,” Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David added.
“President Biden's reversal of the Transgender Military Ban is a huge step towards full equality for the LGBTQ community and serves to make us stronger as a nation," said Erin Uritus, the CEO of Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, a LGBTQ workplace equality advocacy organization.
Trump, in a series of unexpected tweets in July 2017, 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.
Geoff Bennett reported from Washington and Adam Edelman reported from New York.