By Jeff Lake

On January 25, 2021, after years of confusion and litigation, the ban on military service by transgender individuals was lifted by executive order1 of President Biden.

In conjunction with the order, the Pentagon issued a statement2 from Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin.

According to the statement: “The Department will immediately take appropriate policy action to ensure individuals who identify as transgender are eligible to enter and serve in their self-identified gender. These changes will ensure no one will be separated or discharged, or denied reenlistment, solely on the basis of gender identity. Prospective recruits may serve in their self-identified gender when they have met the appropriate standards for accession into the military services. This revised policy will also ensure all medically-necessary transition related care authorized by law is available to all Service members and will re-examine all cases of transgender Service members that may be in some form of adverse administrative proceedings.” 

The ACLU, which had filed one of the lawsuits challenging the ban, issued a press release stating the following: “We look forward to working with the Biden administration to quickly resolve our lawsuit and eliminate any remaining barriers to full participation for transgender service members. The ACLU’s work to ensure all LGBTQ people can live openly and freely is not over, but today we celebrate and applaud this historic step forward.”

As with all military policies, it remains to be seen how this change in policy will be implemented. As this change is a return to previous policy, there may be broad support as the ban was challenged vigorously from the time it was announced. However, NPR is reporting that, as of the date this article is written in late February 2021, the new policy is not yet in place. It is unclear how many individuals were affected by the ban and how many of them will be able to serve going forward.

Finally, there may be some resistance in the ranks to the policy. At least one chaplain, Major Andrew Calvert at Fort Hood (of course), is under investigation for posting his view that a transgender person “is mentally unfit (ill), and thus … unqualified to serve. …  This person is a MedBoard for Mental Wellness waiting to happen. What a waste of military resources and funding!” It remains to be seen how the military will now deal with situations such as the case of Major Calvert. For now, it seems as if the movement for full equality for all people has achieved a victory here. Congratulations are in order for all those activists inside and outside the military who kept up the resistance to the ban policy and worked to overturn it. In addition, congratulations are also in order for all in the legal community who fought the transgender ban in the courts over the last four years. Now the struggle turns to other forms of discrimination in the military that are not as blatant but nevertheless are very real. For updates on this fight, please subscribe to On Watch.