Pentagon moves to allow transgender members of the military

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday March 31, 2021
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Pentagon officials are moving forward with allowing transgender people to serve in the U.S. military. Photo: AP file
Pentagon officials are moving forward with allowing transgender people to serve in the U.S. military. Photo: AP file

Pentagon officials confirmed March 31 that the U.S. Department of Defense will be implementing President Joe Biden's executive order ending an effective ban on openly transgender service members that had been put in place by the Trump administration.

The news came on International Transgender Day of Visibility. As the Bay Area Reporter previously reported, Biden had signed an executive order January 25 ending the ban shortly before the swearing in of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

"It shall be the policy of the United States to ensure that all transgender individuals who wish to serve in the United States military and can meet the appropriate standards shall be able to do so openly and free from discrimination," the executive order stated. "The Secretary of Defense shall immediately prohibit involuntary separations, discharges, and denials of reenlistment or continuation of service on the basis of gender identity or under circumstances relating to their gender identity."

While this went into effect immediately, DOD officials confirmed to the Associated Press that they were soon going to announce new policies to replace those that had been reversed. These regulations will reportedly allow trans people to get transition-related health care. Pentagon officials are giving departments and service components a short implementation period of 30 days to update their policies.

"On this International Transgender Day of Visibility, we recognize the great strides our Nation has made raising awareness of the challenges faced by the transgender community," stated Austin in his memo. "Their shared stories of struggle and heartache reminds us that more work needs to be done to ensure that every person is treated with dignity and respect no matter how they identify."

Peninsula Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-San Mateo) issued a statement of support March 31 shortly after the news was leaked. She evoked the late Georgia Congressman John Lewis.

"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 servicemembers, who once again will be able to serve openly and proudly in their self-identified gender," Speier stated. "Our brave transgender servicemembers should never have been subject to the Trump administration's discriminatory and bigoted policy.

She pledged to continue working with her colleagues to establish statutory nondiscrimination protections for members of the armed forces.

"While President Biden and Secretary Austin have kept their promises to defend transgender servicemembers who put their lives on the line for Americans, we must ensure that we never backtrack again on basic human decency," stated Speier.

Also praising the development was Aaron Belkin, a gay man who is the director of the Palm Center, a research institute that analyzes U.S. military policy as it affects LGBTQ people.

"We have consistently said that restoring a policy of full inclusion for transgender troops would be straightforward, and the Biden administration has now done that, just as it promised from the start," Belkin stated. "This is a big step toward making our military stronger and fairer, and it recognizes years of research showing that a single standard for all service members improves readiness and allows for the widest possible pool of qualified personnel.

"We will continue to monitor the re-integration of transgender troops, and to help ensure that every American willing and able to serve has the opportunity to defend their country," he added.

V.A. makes changes for trans veterans

The news at the Pentagon comes less than a week after Denis McDonough, the secretary of the department of veterans affairs, announced that his department will be making changes to better protect the rights of trans veterans as part of its own compliance with Biden's January 25 executive order.

"I will be issuing a memo to all administrations and staff offices to conduct a policy review to determine whether any regulations, directives, policies and procedures require revision to promote equity for and inclusion of [LGBTQ] veterans, families, caregivers, survivors or employees [and] design and implement a remediation plan if the review identifies discriminatory policies towards LGBT beneficiaries and employees," McDonough stated March 26.

McDonough went on to state that the department will "perform an assessment of the necessary steps to eliminate the exclusion of 'gender alteration' (gender affirmation surgery) in the medical benefits package to include assessment of statutory and regulatory requirements as well as funding, staffing, technology and other resources required to provide all medically necessary services."

Denny Meyer, a gay Vietnam-era U.S. Navy veteran who is the public affairs officer for American Veterans for Equal Rights, told the B.A.R. that this is good news. He said he gets complaints on a daily basis from trans vets whose rights aren't being respected "for the last few years."

Meyer said that sometimes people have to wait months to see a doctor for medications they need now, in spite of VA policy.

"People look for just any excuse they can find to deny people their rights," Meyer said. "You're going to see a whole lot of push back from people who earn a living serving veterans, who are going to try to deny trans people. I hate to be cynical but I get all the complaints."

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