Commentary on Executive Order Repealing Transgender Military Ban

It seems like we all watched the inauguration with bated breath.  After the events of January 6, 2021, the unspoken question in everyone’s mind was whether democracy would pull through and whether there would be more violence.  Yet, last Wednesday we witnessed a peaceful transition of power and the installation of the next duly-elected administration.  While we can finally breathe a sigh of relief, our work is not over.  With a new administration, regardless of political affiliation, our community’s duty is to continue holding leadership accountable and demanding equality and justice for all.  I look forward to holding the Biden-Harris administration accountable, just as we demanded the Trump administration adhere to the Constitution and the rule of law.
It is with this sentiment that I both applaud and critique the Biden administration’s repeal of the ban on military service for transgender individuals by Executive Order.  While this positive step towards equality comes in the context of the military, which at is core is fraught with toxic masculinity, white supremacy, and represents an antithetical obstacle to global peace, LGBTQI+ individuals should never be precluded from partaking in a profession or calling on the basis of their gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation.  The inclusion of LGBTQI+ individuals, as well as women, people of color, and all those who intersect these identities is crucial to restoring dignity, respect, and pride to our armed forces.  The diversification of the military is also paramount to the integration of our community in the rest of civic life.  World War II brought about tremendous change after women, first, and then African Americans were incorporated into the war effort by necessity.  While these segments of the population did not enjoy full integration, their participation in the armed forces revolutionized gender roles and the makeup of the American workforce during and after the war.  Nonetheless, African Americans returned home from the war to a life of bigotry and injustice despite helping to destroy some of the most homicidal, racist regimes in human history.  It was undeniable that they too had been victims of such a racist regime having served and died in segregated units.  The war’s rationale of extending democracy abroad could not hold water following the war without accepting the shortcomings of “democracy” at home.  This incongruence between the supposed purpose of the war and the reality of the African American experience at home undeniably contributed to the rise of the Civil Rights movement. 
Likewise today, the United States cannot hold itself out as the standard bearer of equality and justice in the world with a stain on our flag such as the doomed “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy and the latest ban on transgender personnel.  We must continue marching towards and demanding equality for all.  Full integration of transgender personnel in the military can only bring forth a new era of inclusion, advocacy, and righteousness.
The Executive Order on Enabling All Qualified Americans to Serve Their Country in Uniform has significant shortcomings which will require further advocacy and non-complacency.  (The below list came from Harper Jean of HJ Tobin Policy Consulting
  • It does not (as many had urged) establish a firm deadline for reinstatement of open service policies.
  • It does not (as many had urged) explicitly direct that the 2016 DoD open service policies be reinstated.  The Order rather leaves all details to the SECDEF, but the strong implication of the Order’s language and the President’s remarks at the signing ceremony are that there will essentially be a return to the 2016 policies.
  • It does not (as many had urged) specifically direct DoD or DHS to ensure an eventual or periodic review of open service policies and consider updates based on lessons learned. The original 2016 policies called for such a review no later than mid-2018 and regularly thereafter, but this of course has never happened.
  • It does not (as many had urged) specifically direct DoD or DHS to reexamine any other policies, such as the equally arbitrary bans affecting intersex people or people living with HIV.
  • It does not (as many had urged) mention military families or veterans, or direct DoD or VA to take any action to ensure equality for these groups.
  • It does not mention accessions (joining the military) at all.  The implication is that there will be a return to the prior policy.  However, the prior policy on accessions was only actually finalized under the Trump Administration, and has been criticized by advocates as too restrictive.
  • It mentions medical care only indirectly; there are no specific instructions, but the clear implication is that DoD should return to providing equal medical care.
  • It does not mention the likely unconstitutionality of the Trump ban, related court rulings, or ongoing litigation; instead it relies solely on the policy merits and previous DoD deliberations.
    Personally speaking, it is a special privilege to call out a Democratic administration and I encourage everyone reading this to tow the line of unrelenting vigilance for our rights and liberties, regardless of the administration.