Transgender Service Members Celebrate Biden’s Victory

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden meets with U.S. troops in Maidan Wardak
President-Elect Joe Biden visits with troops stationed in Afghanistan in 2011 during his tenure as vice president.
Reuters/ Omar Sobhani

SPART*A, a group of transgender service members and veterans, is celebrating President-Elect Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election and breathing a sigh of relief following the defeat of an incumbent president whose broad anti-LGBTQ agenda has included a ban on transgender troops.

The organization welcomed Biden’s acknowledgement of transgender individuals in his victory speech on November 7 and its leaders and rank-and-file members stressed that they anticipate working with the incoming administration to reinstate inclusive policies in the military.

This comes as Trump — who has yet to concede the election — turned to Twitter on November 11 to announce the termination of Defense Secretary Mark Espier, who publicly broke with the administration over the summer when he opposed sending military troops to quell protests targeting racial injustice.

Military members, veterans look forward to inclusive policies under new administration

“SPARTANs are ready to serve fully, unencumbered by unnecessary and harmful policies that unfairly exclude Americans who are capable, willing, and ready to serve our Nation,” SPART*A president Emma Shinn said in a written statement. “President-Elect Biden’s and Vice President-Elect Harris’ commitment to strength through diversity demonstrates that we must continue to make the United States a place where everyone can work together.”

Ben Fram, who serves as SPART*A’s vice president, voiced confidence that the Biden era will represent “a dramatic reversal from being told by our Commander-in-Chief that transgender service members are an unacceptable burden on the military.”

“We are thrilled that transgender Americans will again be able to openly serve and defend the country they love and the ideals they cherish,” Fram added.

SPART*A also provided reaction from unnamed transgender service members who, for now, are forced to hide their gender identity under the current administration.

One member of the US Navy said they are able to “breathe a little easier” after Biden’s victory, while an unnamed member of the Army said they can “finally feel hope again” and will be “finally serving a country that supports me again.” An officer in the Navy was also quoted as saying that they will no longer need to worry that their 17 years of service will be overlooked because of their gender identity.

The president-elect is expected to move swiftly to erase the ban following his inauguration on January 20. Biden’s campaign website describes Trump’s policy as “discriminatory and detrimental to our national security” and stresses that “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 US Department of Defense to allow transgender service members to serve openly, receive needed medical treatment, and be free from discrimination,” the campaign pledge states.

In 2019, Gay City News reported on the complexities and contradictions of the Trump administration’s ban on transgender service members, which the president abruptly announced via Twitter in 2017 and later handed off the implementation of the policy to then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis. Ever since, the policy faced uncertainty, confusion, and legal challenges: Would all transgender service members be banned? Would only newcomers get barred from the military?

When Gay City News contacted different branches of the military last year to seek specific terms of the ban, the newspaper received a range of responses that reflected wide disarray in the policy’s implementation. Spokespeople for multiple branches said the discharging of transgender service members was not tracked at all, and although the military insisted that the policy did not represent a total ban on trans service members since some were exempt, that assertion was hardly believable because transgender troops with a diagnosis of gender dysphoria would be disqualified unless they were already serving in accordance with the gender they were assigned at birth.

While the Army and Marines acknowledged there were no discharges up until that point last year, the Navy and Air Force said those numbers were not tracked and the Coast Guard did not offer a formal response.

The 2017 announcement came a year after President Barack Obama’s defense secretary, Ash Carter, effectively ended the military’s ban on transgender service members.

“[We in] the Defense Department and the military need to avail ourselves of all talent possible … to remain what we are now — the finest fighting force the world has ever known,” Carter said in June of 2016.

The Obama administration also ended the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy that was first implemented by President Bill Clinton and banned gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals from serving openly. Unlike transgender folks, those individuals have been able to serve openly ever since the official termination of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in 2011.

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