By Jacob Passy
President Biden signed an executive order Monday that will reverse the Trump administration’s ban on transgender people serving in the U.S. military. It is one of many steps the Biden administration is taking to support the LGBT community — and it comes at a time when many LGBT Americans continue to face discrimination at work.
The executive order immediately prohibits the armed forces from discharging members or denying re-enlistment on the basis of their gender identity. Additionally, the order directs the military to begin a review and correction of service members’ records in cases where this occurred.
The order does not appear to immediately allow new transgender recruits to join the military, but it gives the secretaries of defense and homeland security 60 days to update the president on their progress in implementing the order.
Biden’s defense secretary, retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, spoke in favor of the ban reversal during his Senate confirmation hearing last week. “I support the president’s plan or plan to overturn the ban,” Austin said. “If you’re fit and you’re qualified to serve and you can maintain the standards, you should be allowed to serve.”
The Obama administration had originally announced a policy that would allow transgender Americans to serve openly in the military — previously, service members could be discharged for being transgender. The military had planned to begin allowing transgender Americans to enlist starting in July 2017.
But in 2017, former president Donald Trump made a surprise announcement on Twitter /zigman2/quotes/203180645/composite TWTR -4.49% that he would no longer allow transgender Americans to serve openly in the military. Trump claimed that the military had to shoulder “tremendous medical costs” by allowing transgender people to join.
Roughly two years later, the Defense Department under Trump finalized the policy, which did not ban transgender people from serving outright but prohibited transgender troops from transitioning and required most to serve in the gender they were assigned at birth.
Trump’s ban attracted multiple legal challenges. Many advocates for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community pointed to a 2016 study that showed that the Pentagon’s health costs would only increase between $2.4 million and $8.4 million annually, a small fraction of the armed forces’ total health-care expenses.
“Our fight to end the transgender military ban was about equal opportunity, fairness and service, and President Biden’s order today honors those shared national values,” Jennifer Levi, the director of the transgender-rights project at GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, said in a statement supporting Biden’s order .
“Transgender Americans can and will bring needed skills to our armed forces at every level, and I look forward to seeing our nation benefit from the contributions of a new generation of transgender leaders and patriots.”
Biden’s administration has taken multiple steps beyond the transgender military ban reversal to provide more support to the LGBT community.
Last week, Biden issued a separate executive orde r stating that it was the policy of his administration “to prevent and combat discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.” Under that view, the White House argues that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.
The executive order cited a recent Supreme Court decision that supported this interpretation of the law in employment-discrimination cases.
Since Biden signed that executive order, the Justice Department has already taken steps to reverse policies that had just been ushered in by the Trump administration.
Less than a week before Biden’s inauguration, the Justice Department sent out a memo that aimed to limit the scope of the Supreme Court’s ruling that protected LGBT people. The Trump administration had filed a brief in the case arguing that Title VII did not cover discrimination based on sexual orientation. But the acting head of the Justice Department revoked the Trump administration’s memo on Friday.
The Supreme Court’s recent ruling was landmark for the LGBT community because prior to it, no federal protections were codified in the law.
Many state and local governments had banned workplace discrimination against LGBT people, such that more than half the country’s population lived in an area with these protections. Nevertheless, transgender Americans have faced rampant discrimination.
More than one in four transgender people have lost a job due to bias, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality.
Transgender people of color experience incidents of discrimination at even higher rates. A 2009 report co-authored by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality found that 97% of transgender people had been mistreated at work in some way, including being denied access to an appropriate bathroom or being removed from contact with clients.
Workplace discrimination can have a serious impact on transgender workers’ well-being, including their mental health . It is one of the reasons transgender individuals are twice as likely as the general population to be unemployed or to live in poverty, Jillian Weiss, the former executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, told MarketWatch in 2017 .
“They have difficulty with finding housing and maintaining stability in their lives,” she said.
The Biden administration’s efforts could have a significant impact on people’s safety at work, as research suggests LGBT people’s comfort with being out in the workplace has worsened in America.
A study conducted by Out Now, an LGBT consulting firm based in the Netherlands, found that the percentage of LGBT individuals in the U.S. who were out to everyone at work dropped from 44% in 2010 to 38% in 2015. The U.S. was the only country studied where this figure declined.