President Joe Biden repealed a Trump-era executive order barring people who identify as transgender from serving in the military in most cases, as well as preventing military funding from paying for sex reassignment surgeries.
Biden’s executive order, which the White House announced on Monday morning, rescinds one Trump issued in 2017 and implemented in 2019.
“Allowing all qualified Americans to serve their country in uniform is better for the military and better for the country because an inclusive force is a more effective force,” the White House said in a statement, according to Axios. “Simply put, it’s the right thing to do and is in our national interest.”
The new executive order comes after the Senate confirmed Biden’s pick to lead the Department of Defense, retired Gen. Lloyd Austin, last week in a 93-2 vote. Austin was sworn into office on Friday, making him the first black man to hold the position of Secretary of Defense. During his confirmation hearing, Austin voiced support for rescinding the Trump administration ban on transgender people serving in the military.
“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,” Austin said.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki had earlier said that Biden was looking at changing the transgender policy “in the coming days and weeks.”
The Trump policy, after it was reworked by the Defense Department and approved by then-Defense Secretary James Mattis, mandated that service members identify by their biological gender while in the military with few exceptions. The policy also blocked military funding from paying for sex reassignment surgeries for service members diagnosed with gender dysphoria, unless to “protect the health” of a service member who was already transitioning when the policy was rolled out.
Trump announced the shift in policy in a tweet in 2017.
“Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail,” Trump wrote.
The military allowed people who identified as transgender to openly serve in the military beginning in 2016 under former President Barack Obama. Critics said that the policy would have a detrimental effect on military readiness and siphon away defense spending. As The Wall Street Journal reports:
Opponents to transgender service members, including some conservative congressional Republicans, have said their presence disrupts military readiness and imposes heavy medical costs on the military’s health-care system. They also have questioned whether transgender service members are as capable as others in the military of deploying whenever and wherever needed, a contention rebutted by advocacy groups.
ACLU senior legislative representative Ian Thompson celebrated Biden’s repeal of the transgender policy in a statement to Axios.
“Repealing the military ban sends a powerful message that transgender people belong in our country,” Thompson said. Biden’s new order “is the first of many essential steps to not only rollback the many discriminatory policies from the Trump administration but go farther than any previous administration in fully recognizing transgender and non-binary people.”
Update note: This article has been expanded after publication to include additional information.