The U.S. military’s transgender service ban could come to an end soon after Democratic president-elect Joe Biden takes office.
The former vice president campaigned on a promise to reinstate an Obama-era policy of open service for transgender troops, which was reversed by President Donald Trump last year.
Eliminating the ban could be as easy as “pushing a button” for the Biden administration, said Shannon Minter, the legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights. “I hope and expect it will be one of the first things he does.”
The Trump administration imposed the ban in April 2019, claiming transgender troops would create a medical and mental health burden. But about 900 transgender troops were grandfathered in under the Obama administration policy and were allowed to continue serving under it.
The incoming administration could reverse Trump’s policy easily, advocates say.
“It wouldn’t require a lot of work because the prior policy is of course still in place for the transgender service members who had already transitioned and came out,” said Minter, who is legal council for federal civil lawsuits challenging the ban.
Biden’s campaign said he will direct the Pentagon to allow transgender troops to serve and get required medical care. The Trump policy is “discriminatory and detrimental to our national security,” the campaign website says.
The Pentagon denied the policy is discriminatory. It “seeks to protect the privacy of all service members and treat all service members with dignity and respect,” the department said in response to an emailed request for comment.
The military has argued the policy isn’t a ban at all, despite outcry and legal challenges from advocacy groups. The policy doesn’t bar transgender people outright, but forbids medical gender transition treatments and requires everyone to serve in their birth gender.
The Pentagon declined to say whether the policy could change. “At this time, the current policy remains in effect,” according to the statement from Pentagon spokeswoman Lisa Lawrence.
President Barack Obama spent almost two years studying the issue of transgender troops before shifting to a policy of open service in 2016. His administration in 2011 ended the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that had excluded openly gay people from serving.
Trump tweeted in July 2017 that the military “cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.” The announcement caught many at the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill by surprise, but about eight months later the Pentagon crafted the current policy.
It took effect last year after the Supreme Court swept away stays by lower courts. Federal civil suits challenging it as unconstitutional were filed after Trump’s tweets and are still in the discovery phase, meaning a final legal resolution could be years away, Minter said.
Transgender people are looking to Biden for a quick remedy as a legal resolution remains far into the future.
Nicolas Talbott, a transgender Ohio resident, said he was confident Biden would move in a “timely manner.” He had sought out recruiters and was eagerly planning on starting a military career after the Obama administration allowed open service.
Talbott was working as a truck driver in the summer of 2017 when Trump tweeted about the ban. His coworker asked him to pull to the side of the road before relaying the news from a cell phone.
Talbott was in shock and disbelief that his military career plans had been dashed. But that may change should Biden reverse the ban.
“No matter what, in the end it will be determined that there is nothing wrong with allowing transgender people to serve in the United States military,” he said.
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