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Pentagon Releases New Policies Enabling Transgender People To Serve In The Military

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby speaks during a media briefing at the Pentagon last week.
Andrew Harnik
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby speaks during a media briefing at the Pentagon last week.

The Pentagon announced new policies on Wednesday that undo the Trump-era rules that effectively banned transgender people from serving in the military.

The Department of Defense's new regulations "allow transgender people who meet military standards to enlist and serve openly in their self-identified gender, and they will be able to get medically necessary transition-related care authorized by law," according to department officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to The Associated Press.

The announcement coincides with International Transgender Day of Visibility.

Biden signed an executive order repealing the transgender ban in his first week in office in January. He told reporters then that the order will allow all "qualified Americans to serve their country in uniform."

The president ordered the secretary of defense and the secretary of homeland security to begin the process of allowing transgender service members to serve openly. The departments were asked to report back within 60 days.

Advocates for trans service members cheered the news.

"We applaud this step to ensure the Department of Defense provides inclusive policy to attract and retain the best and brightest our nation has to offer," said Air Force Lt. Col. Bree Fram, who is vice president of SPART*A, a transgender military advocacy organization.

"Military personnel reach 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. 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," Fram said in a statement.

Trump initially ordered a ban on transgender troops in a series of tweets in July 2017. A Defense Department panel drew up regulations to implement the ban, which was then blocked by federal courts before the U.S. Supreme Court allowed it to go forward in early 2019.

In his order, Biden noted that in 2016, during the Obama administration, the secretary of defense concluded "that permitting transgender individuals to serve openly in the military was consistent with military readiness and with strength through diversity, such that transgender service members who could meet the required standards and procedures should be permitted to serve openly. The Secretary of Defense also concluded that it was appropriate to create a process that would enable service members to take steps to transition gender while serving."

The policies announced Wednesday largely return to those created in 2016, though they were never fully enacted.

Drew Garza, whose plans to enlist were put on hold when Trump's ban came into effect, told NPR last month that once Biden announced the repeal, he was quickly contacted by recruiters from the Army, Air Force and Marines.

"I was like, yes," he said. "I take it to mean: now I'm being seen."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.