(WB) The Defense Department announced on Wednesday an updated policy to fully reverse former President Trump’s transgender military ban, allowing for enlistment regardless of gender identity and access to transition-related care through the U.S. military’s health care system.
Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said at the start of his briefing the new policy in the form of two instructions would “restore the department’s original 2016 policies regarding transgender policies,” which harkens back to the implementation of open service during the Obama administration before Trump reversed it by tweet in 2017.
“They provide a means by which to access into the military in one’s self-identified gender, provided all appropriate standards are met,” Kirby said. “They provide a path for those in service for medical treatment, gender transition and recognition of one’s self-identified gender and seek to protect the privacy of all service members and to treat them with dignity and respect at all times.”
Kirby said the new policies would take effect in 30 days, but in the meantime, the interim guidance issued by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at the start of the Biden administration prohibiting the discharges of troops for being transgender would remain in effect.
“The secretary of defense strongly believes that the all-volunteer force thrives when it is composed of diverse Americans who can meet the high standards for military service in an inclusive force that strengthens our national security posture,” Kirby added.
Although the Pentagon is characterizing the change as consistent with the policy set up by former Defense Secretary Ashton Carter during the Obama years, it should be noted that the policy didn’t immediately allow for enlistments and projected that policy change would take place in another year. Trump halted that change with his transgender military ban.
The Associated Press was the first to report the news. Stephanie Miller, director of the accession for the Defense Department, later took questions on the policy change, which was announced on the same day as the Transgender Day of Visibility, during a briefing at the Pentagon.
Nicolas Talbott, an aspiring service member who’s a plaintiff in the lawsuit against the transgender military ban, said in a statement the change was “especially meaningful” on the Transgender Day of Visibility.
“I look forward to seeing the military’s core values of fairness and respect reflected in a clear policy that welcomes all people who are qualified and willing to serve and I’m more confident than ever that when I apply to enlist, I will be judged on my skills and my accomplishments, instead of my transgender status, which has nothing to do with my ability to serve,” Talbott said.
The new policy follows up on the executive order President Biden signed at the start of his administration, directing the Pentagon to implement transgender military service and requiring the secretary of defense and secretary of homeland security, which operates the U.S. Coast Guard, to report to him in 60 days. Although the executive order halted further discharges on the basis of gender identity, the directive didn’t explicitly address enlistments or access to transition-related care, such as gender reassignment surgery.
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), who as chair of the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee has been leading the charge for transgender military service, commended the Pentagon for the change in a statement.
“The late John Lewis always reminded us that it is never the wrong time to do the right thing, and the Pentagon absolutely did the right thing today by reestablishing a policy of inclusion for transgender service members, who once again will be able to serve openly and proudly in their self-identified gender,” Speier said. “Our brave transgender service members should never have been subject to the Trump Administration’s discriminatory and bigoted policy.”
Speier added “we must ensure that we never backtrack again on basic human decency,” signaling her intent to establish statutory non-discrimination protections through the introduction of legislation.
Although the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles has concluded an estimated 14,700 transgender troops are in active duty in the U.S. armed services, the Pentagon came up far short of that. Miller estimated the number is 2,200 based on the number of service members who have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria or sought transition-related care, but she acknowledged that number doesn’t consider service members who self-identify as transgender.
Right-wing groups have pounced on the cost of transitioned-related care, including gender reassignment surgery, as a result of allowing transgender people in the military, as evidenced by a recent tweet by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) harping on “free” surgeries for troops and ads run against Gina Ortiz Jones in Texas criticizing her for supporting access to transition-related care for service members.
Miller, however, estimated during the briefing the medical cost would be a drop in the bucket compared to the overall military budget.
“The medical data that we have really indicates that it’s very small, a handful of a million dollars per year, which is really you know covered within the defense health budget of several billion,” Miller said. “So we’re not anticipating with these changes in policies that there’s going to be an adverse impact in terms of medical costs.”
It wasn’t immediately certain whether the Department of Homeland Security would follow the same policy for the Coast Guard, although that service has consistently followed the Pentagon in terms of personnel policy. The Coast Guard didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the policy change.
Bree Fram, an Air Force officer and vice president of the transgender military service group SPART*A, said in a statement the change “provides inclusive policy to attract and retain the best and brightest our nation has to offer.”
“Military personnel reaches maximum effectiveness when they have access to all medically necessary care and we are excited that this policy extends that access to transgender service members,” Fram said. Additionally, opening recruitment to transgender individuals ensures an extremely talented and motivated pool of people that this country needs have the opportunity to serve in uniform.”