The Pentagon on Wednesday swept away Trump-era restrictions on transgender people joining the military, issuing new rules that offer them wider access to medical care and assistance with gender transition.
The new department regulations allow transgender people who meet military standards to enlist and serve openly in their self-identified gender, and they will be able to get medically necessary transition-related care authorized by law, Pentagon Spokesman John Kirby told reporters.
The changes come after a two-month Pentagon review aimed at developing guidelines for a new policy, which was announced by President Joe Biden just days after he took office in January. The new rules also prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.
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"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," Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement Wednesday. "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."
Until a few years ago, service members could be discharged from the military for being transgender, but that changed during the Obama administration. In 2016, the Pentagon announced that transgender people already serving in the military would be allowed to serve openly, and that by July 2017 transgenders would be allowed to enlist.
After Donald Trump took office, his administration delayed the enlistment date and called for additional study. A few weeks later, Trump tweeted that the government wouldn't accept or allow transgender people to serve "in any capacity" in the military.
After a lengthy and complicated legal battle and additional reviews, the Defense Department in April 2019 approved a policy that fell short of an all-out ban but barred transgender troops and recruits from transitioning to another sex and required most individuals to serve in what the administration called their "birth gender."
Under that policy, currently serving transgender troops and anyone who had signed an enlistment contract before the effective date could continue with plans for hormone treatments and gender transition if they had been diagnosed with gender dysphoria.
But after that date, no one with gender dysphoria who was taking hormones or had transitioned to another gender was allowed to enlist. Troops that were already serving and were diagnosed with gender dysphoria were required to serve in the gender assigned at birth and were barred from taking hormones or getting transition surgery.
The new policies released Wednesday are similar to those developed in 2016.
Speaking during a Pentagon briefing, Stephanie Miller, the director of military accession policy, said there are 2,200 troops currently serving who have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria. That's more than double the 1,071 who were serving in February 2019, according to data released then.
The U.S. has more than 1.3 million active-duty troops and close to 800,000 in the National Guard and Reserves.
According to the Pentagon, the department spent about $8 million on transgender care from 2016 to 2019.
Several Republican lawmakers quickly denounced the military's policy change.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) tweeted, "Another 'unifying' move by the new Administration? Biden Ends Partial Ban on Transgender Soldiers in U.S. Military.
Another "unifying" move by the new Administration?
Biden Ends Partial Ban on Transgender Soldiers in U.S. Military https://t.co/DiVXdFnEQ8
— Senator John Cornyn (@JohnCornyn) January 25, 2021
Responding to the announcement about the military paying for gender transitions, Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas), a retired Lt. Commander and a former Navy SEAL tweeted on Thursday, "Tell me this is an April Fools joke. Because if the reality is that an ex-General turned SECDEF actually thinks we should spend taxpayer money on gender transitions (making a service member undeployable), then he's lost our trust."
Tell me this is an April Fools joke.
Because if the reality is that an ex-General turned SECDEF actually thinks we should spend taxpayer money on gender transitions (making a service member undeployable), then he's lost our trust. https://t.co/x1TPOonnkO
— Dan Crenshaw (@DanCrenshawTX) April 1, 2021
Back in January, Crenshaw told Fox News he thought people should serve openly in the U.S. military and tell people what their identity is.
"Under Trump, transgender people could serve openly. What was not OK was to get taxpayer-funded gender reassignment surgery. That's a fairly reasonable policy to have," he said.
But the Texas congressman said he thinks taxpayer-funded reassignment surgery will hurt the military's readiness.
"You cannot deploy if you're not vaccinated or have the proper dental records in place. How are we supposed to deploy people and keep our war-fighting stance and should taxpayers be paying for that?" he asked.