Joe Biden has promised to strike down President Trump’s ban on trans people serving openly in the military “on day one” of his presidency, reinstating the principle of open service he and then-President Obama instituted in 2016. Trans people already serving and those wanting to enlist are excitedly anticipating the policy change.
Kaz Lewis, 23, graduated from West Point in June, and is hoping to become an engineer in the army. He decided not to get a diagnosis of gender dysphoria as it would have prevented him from getting commissioned. “I am out to people, but I can’t do anything at all to formally, medically transition, until anything changes,” Lewis told The Daily Beast.
Paulo Batista, 36, from San Diego, is looking to join the navy. “The way it works now, I would be automatically disqualified if I went through the medical now, or go for a medical waiver to state why my surgeries would not cause an issue to me enlisting.” Batista told The Daily Beast that in recent times the waiver process had seemed log-jammed, “there were lawsuits pending all over, and no responses from the Pentagon, so I would rather not go through that right now. I wanted to see what would happen in the election.”
“It’s simple: every American who is qualified to serve, should be able to—and we should all be grateful for their service and courage,” Biden told Dallas Voice in February. “President Trump’s transgender military ban reversed the June 2016 Obama-Biden Administration policy explicitly allowing transgender people to serve openly in the military. On day one of my presidency, I will direct the Department of Defense to allow transgender service members to serve openly and free from discrimination. I know that this is not just the right thing to do, but it’s in our national interest.”
A spokesperson for the Biden transition team told The Daily Beast that he had pledged to repeal the ban at the outset of the administration. It is understood that, just as the policy was introduced by an executive action, Biden will likely strike it down using the same mechanism.
Biden’s campaign website makes clear Biden’s intention to reverse the transgender military ban, which is “discriminatory and detrimental to our national security. Every American who is qualified to serve in our military should be able to do so—regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity and without having to hide who they are. Biden will direct the U.S. Department of Defense to allow transgender service members to serve openly, receive needed medical treatment, and be free from discrimination.”
The Trump ban, said Lewis, “unnecessarily prevented people from serving. I’m just as competent a leader and soldier as the guy sitting next to me. I don’t know why there should be a ban, or any form of discrimination. Trans people serve in the same way as everyone else.”
Lewis said his colleagues have been “generally accepting. Most of the people I interact with on a day-to-day basis are very much, ‘Hey, you be my battle buddy, I’ll be your battle buddy.’ It’s really cool. It’s a non-issue to people on an individual basis.”
Biden’s victory had brought Batista “tears of joy when we have been fighting for so long. I am so excited. I didn’t think Trump would go this far. Once Biden reverses the ban by executive order, I think the policy change should take around 30 days.”
“What we want is coming. We just can’t predict when it is going to be.”
Lt. Col. Bree Fram, an active duty astronautical engineer in the U.S. Air Force and a spokesperson for the trans military advocacy organization Spart*a, said the group had “every confidence” the Biden administration would issue an executive order to reverse the trans ban.
“He has said it himself multiple times, and we have no reason to doubt that commitment and that commitment happening very quickly,” Fram said, adding the organization could not comment on whether Biden or any members of his transition team had been in communication with the organization, and if they had, what the substance of those discussions had been.
“That kind of work is done behind the scenes,” Fram said. “We are very confident they will take action, and we will hopefully have a seat at the table to improve things once they do.”
While it was impossible to give an exact timeline of change, Fram said Spart*a was telling its members: “What we want is coming. We just can’t predict when it is going to be.” The group’s members are “very excited,” she added.
As The Daily Beast previously reported, until now there has been a group of out-transgender individuals exempt from the ban and able to continue serving and receive medical treatment. Fram is part of this group—estimated at around 1,600 people, all with diagnoses of gender dysphoria predating the ban—having come out as trans in 2016, when the ban on transgender service was first lifted.
A second, much larger group of trans people serving has been non-exempt from the ban, and did not receive a diagnosis of gender dysphoria before the policy went into place. They have been forced to serve in their sex assigned at birth and are not able to access medical care or receive gender-affirming surgery. Spart*a says this group numbers anywhere between 2,000 and 13,000 troops. A more accurate figure is impossible to deduce, because the Department of Defense does not keep such data.