IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Biden repeals Trump's ban on transgender military service

Trump struggled to defend his discriminatory ban on transgender military service. Today, Biden put things right.
Image: Pentagon
An aerial view of the Pentagon building in Washington on Dec. 26, 2011.Dan De LUCE / AFP - Getty Images file

The initial breakthrough came in June 2016, when then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that the U.S. military was lifting a ban on transgender service members.

"Effective immediately, transgender Americans may serve openly, and they can no longer be discharged or otherwise separated from the military just for being transgender," Carter told reporters. He added that the decision was, among other things, "a matter of principle: Americans who want to serve and can meet our standards should be afforded the opportunity to compete to do so."

About a year later, Donald Trump reversed course, announcing -- via Twitter, of course -- that transgender Americans would no longer be allowed to serve. This morning, as NBC News reported, President Joe Biden repealed Trump's ban.

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.

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." The statement added, "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 immediate "correction" of records from the last few years is especially notable: Biden isn't just re-opening the door for transgender Americans to serve in the future, he's putting things right for those whose service records were ruined by the Trump administration.

Aside from the obvious problem -- Trump's ban was discriminatory and served no purpose -- what always amazed me about the Republican's policy is the degree to which even he couldn't defend it. At times, it wasn't altogether clear whether he even understood his own ban.

Circling back to our earlier coverage, let's not forget that Trump hadn't given anyone at the Pentagon a heads-up about his discriminatory policy -- officials throughout the executive branch were blindsided -- and no one at the White House could explain the necessity of the change.

Trump eventually defended the move by saying, "I think I'm doing a lot of people a favor by coming out and just saying it." It was never clear what that was supposed to mean.

Two years later, the Republican tried again to defend his ban, insisting that transgender servicemembers "have to" take "massive amounts of drugs," and in the military, you're not allowed to take any drugs."

This didn't make any sense at all. For one thing, as a Washington Post report explained, "[N]ot all transgender people undergo gender reassignment surgery or take prescription hormones, so even if such prescribed drugs were prohibited, it wouldn't necessarily mean transgender troops would have to be banned from serving. Trump's comments seem to suggest that these drugs would be required for all transgender troops; they're not."

What's more, as a Pentagon spokesperson was quick to point out, "The Military Health System covers all approved medically necessary treatments and prescription medications. If a service member has a hormone deficiency for any reason (such as hypogonadism, hypothyroidism, menopause, etc.), he or she would be prescribed hormones."

In other words, Trump banned eligible Americans from serving in the military, and he couldn't explain why.

His policy was obviously indefensible, and as of today, it's over.

As for the politics, I'd be surprised if Republicans throw too big a tantrum over Biden's decision, but Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) complained this morning that the president's move isn't "unifying."

To the extent that reality still has meaning, Gallup found that 71% of the public supports allowing transgender Americans to serve in the military. Or put another way, today's announcement appears to be plenty unifying for the American mainstream, even if John Cornyn disapproves.