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Pentagon reverses Trump-era policies to allow transgender people to serve

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin issued a memorandum on Wednesday, International Transgender Day of Visibility, stating that the military avails itself to the best American talent regardless of gender identity. Photo by Lisa Ferdinando/DoD/UPI
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin issued a memorandum on Wednesday, International Transgender Day of Visibility, stating that the military avails itself to the best American talent regardless of gender identity. Photo by Lisa Ferdinando/DoD/UPI | License Photo

March 31 (UPI) -- The Pentagon on Wednesday reversed Trump-era transgender policies to restore those that prohibit the military from discrimination on the basis of gender identity.

Effective April 30, the restoration of polices that were instated in 2016 by the Obama administration will allow transgender individuals to enroll in the military as long as all appropriate standards are met.

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The change also creates a path for service members to receive medical treatment, including gender transition surgery, as well as ensures the military recognizes one's self-identified gender and protects all service members' privacy with dignity and respect, the Pentagon said in a statement.

The reinstated polices also ensure services members cannot be discharged, denied re-enlistment or continuation of military service or subjected to adverse action or mistreatment due to their gender identity.

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"These policies are based on the conclusion that open service by transgender persons who are subject to the same high standards and procedures as other services member with regard to medical fitness for duty, physical fitness, uniform and grooming standards, deployability and retention is consistent with military service and readiness," the Department of Defense instructions on implementing the policy states.

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In July 2017, then-President Donald Trump said transgender people will not be allowed to serve in the U.S. military, stating via Twitter "[o]ur military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail."

The policy was met with quick criticism from politicians and LGBT groups and advocates, with the National Center for Transgender Equality calling it an "egregious attack" against the estimated 15,000 transgender service members.

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The policy change follows President Joe Biden on Jan. 25 signing an executive order allowing transgender Americans to serve openly in the military and coincides with International Transgender Day of Visibility.

In a memorandum addressed to all Defense Department employees in recognition of the day, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said he was "pleased" to have announced the updated department policy.

"The United States military is the greatest fighting force on the planet because we are composed of an all-volunteer team willing to step up and defend the rights and freedoms of all Americans," he said. "And we will remain the best and most capable team because we avail ourselves of the best possible talent that America has to offer, regardless of gender identity."

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SPART*A, the nation's leading transgender military service organization, celebrated the policy change on Monday, calling it a "welcome reprieve" for the thousands of current and former service members whose lives and careers were disrupted by the Trump-era transgender ban.

"Military personnel reach maximum effectiveness when they have access to all medically necessary care and we are excited that this policy extends that access to transgender service members," U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Bree Fram, vice president of SPART*A, said in a statement. "Additionally, opening recruitment to transgender individuals ensures an extremely talented and motivated pool of people that this country needs have the opportunity to serve in uniform."

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