For transgender Americans, Biden’s order is only the beginning

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Last week, President Biden lifted the ban on transgender military service. As attorneys who have led the legal battle against the ban since it was announced, we are elated for our plaintiffs. The president’s action, once implemented by the military, resolves our cases — and is a powerful affirmation of our nation’s shared values of inclusion, fairness, and equal opportunity.

As a result of this order, courageous transgender service members stationed across the globe no longer have to worry about facing discharge simply for being who they are and can instead focus solely on protecting our country. And enlistees like Nicolas Talbott, who trained in ROTC for years in preparation for military service, will finally be able to move forward with their lifelong dreams.

Since President Trump first tweeted that transgender people would no longer be permitted to serve “in any capacity” in 2017, we have worked with dedicated transgender service members and recruits to challenge an arbitrary policy opposed by an overwhelming majority of Americans. Over the past nearly four years, a growing chorus of military leaders, elected officials from both parties, and military experts have condemned the ban as a betrayal of military values that weakens our national security.

While this discriminatory policy was in place, our military lost highly trained and skilled service members and qualified recruits. In addition, the ban damaged military readiness by undermining cohesion and morale and sending a message that political leaders do not respect the judgment of military professionals.

The transgender military ban wreaked havoc in the lives of many transgender service members and recruits. Yet just as the struggle for marriage equality changed the way society views LGBTQ families, the fight to end the military ban has transformed the way people see the transgender community. Americans have witnessed transgender people’s dedication to this country, their willingness to serve, and their ability to contribute and lead. Most of all, they have seen that just as with other differences, whether a person is transgender has no bearing on their ability to fight and serve alongside others. As Democratic Illinois Senator and veteran Tammy Duckworth so powerfully reflected: “When I was bleeding to death in my Black Hawk helicopter… I didn’t care if the American troops risking their lives to help save me were gay, straight, trans, Black, white or Brown. All that mattered was they didn’t leave me behind.”

History shows that, with support from our nation’s leadership, these gains in visibility and public support will continue to bear fruit. Within five years of the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Eric Fanning became the first openly gay secretary of the United States Army, confirming that our country is strongest when it removes artificial barriers to inclusivity. Last year’s election was one in which transgender political candidates made historic gains. President Biden and Congress now have a historic opportunity to ensure the inclusion of transgender people in all branches of government service, including through judicial and administrative appointments.

President Biden’s executive order marks a major victory for transgender troops. It is also a turning point for our country. In the years ahead, as prejudice continues to fall away, transgender people can assume their rightful place as full, equal, and valued members of our society.

Jennifer Levi is the Transgender Rights Project director at GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD). Shannon Minter is legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

Tags Discrimination against transgender people Donald Trump Joe Biden LGBT rights in the United States Tammy Duckworth Transgender Transgender people and military service Transgender personnel in the United States military

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