New HHS rule would roll back sex discrimination protection for transgender people in health services.
President Joe Biden issued an executive order on Monday reversing a Trump administration policy that barred transgender individuals from serving in the United States 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,” Biden said in remarks to reporters at the White House.
Former President Donald Trump first ordered the ban on transgender individuals serving in the US military in 2017. The order was challenged in federal courts as discriminatory, revised by Trump in 2018 and eventually allowed to take effect by the US Supreme Court in January 2019.
Incoming Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin supports lifting the ban. Biden met with Austin in the White House’s Oval Office on Monday prior to Austin’s ceremonial swearing-in.
“Our armed forces are at their best when they represent the talents of our entire population, regardless of gender identity,” Austin said in a tweet on Monday.
“I fully support (President Biden’s) direction today that all transgender individuals who wish to serve and can meet the appropriate standards shall be able to do so,” Austin said.
Trump’s order had drawn protests from gay rights advocates who slammed the order as “bigoted” and “irresponsible”. Nearly 60 percent of Americans at the time said transgender people should be allowed to serve in the US armed forces, a Reuters/Ipsos had found.
Biden’s order revokes Trump’s directives and instructs the secretary of defence and the secretary of homeland security to implement the new policy throughout all branches of the military service – the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard.
The order bans involuntary separations, discharges and denials of re-enlistment on the basis of or relating to gender identity.
Democrats in the US Congress applauded the action while some Republicans were quick to criticise.
“No Americans should be turned away from serving in defence of their country simply because they are transgender,” Representative Steny Hoyer, a leading House Democrat, said in a statement.
“Another ‘unifying’ move by the new administration?” Republican Senator John Cornyn questioned on Twitter.
Another “unifying” move by the new Administration?
Biden Ends Partial Ban on Transgender Soldiers in U.S. Military https://t.co/DiVXdFnEQ8
— Senator John Cornyn (@JohnCornyn) January 25, 2021
Navy Petty Officer Brock Stone, who had been among a number of service personnel who had sued the Trump administration to reverse the rule, said in a statement issued by the American Civil Liberties Union he was “relieved and appreciative” of Biden’s order.
“I joined the Navy in 2006 to serve my country and my idea of patriotism includes speaking up for myself and anyone else who’s being held down,” Stone said.
Biden’s action affirms “that I and other transgender service members belong in our military,” he said.
A 2016 US Defense Department study showed that allowing transgender people to serve would have a minimal effect on military readiness and healthcare costs, the White House said in a statement announcing the new policy.
The study also concluded that open transgender service had no significant impact on operational effectiveness or unit cohesion in foreign militaries.
Putting the new directive into effect will take time as the service branches unwind policies put in place under the Trump administration. Biden’s order requires the secretaries of defence and homeland security to report back on progress within 60 days.
“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 in a statement announcing the order.