The new order, which Biden signed in the Oval Office during a meeting with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, overturns a ban ordered by President Donald Trump during his first year in office. It immediately prohibits any service member from being forced out of the military on the basis of gender identity.
The decision comes as Biden plans to turn his attention to identity politics issues.
Ahead of his inauguration, Biden’s transition team circulated a memo saying Biden planned to use his first full week as president “to advance equity and support communities of color and other underserved communities.”
As he signed the order on Monday, Biden said, “What I’m doing is enabling all qualified Americans to serve their country in uniform.”
“America is stronger, at home and around the world, when it is inclusive. The military is no exception,” the order says. “Allowing all qualified Americans to serve their country in uniform is better for the military and better for the country because an inclusive force is a more effective force. Simply put, it’s the right thing to do and is in our national interest.”
The order directs the departments of Defense and Homeland Security to take steps to implement the order for the military and the Coast Guard. And it says they must reexamine the records of service members who were discharged or denied reenlistment due to gender identity issues under the previous policy.
It requires the departments to submit a report to the president on their progress within 60 days.
Austin, in a statement, voiced support for the change and said the Pentagon will work over the next two months to implement the new policy.
“I fully support the President’s direction that all transgender individuals who wish to serve in the United States military and can meet the appropriate standards shall be able to do so openly and free from discrimination,” said Austin, who also was formally sworn in as defense chief by Kamala Harris on Monday. “This is the right thing to do. It is also the smart thing to do.”
Congress members and advocates hailed the signing.
“This is the triumph of evidence-based policy over discrimination,” said Aaron Belkin, the executive director of the Palm Center, which researches and advocates against LGBTQ discrimination. “The inclusive policy will make it easier for trans troops to do their jobs and to fulfill their missions.”
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press.