New research shows why Biden's pledge to reverse the transgender military ban is more crucial than ever.
New research about the effects of Donald Trump's transgender military ban shows the importance of Joe Biden's promise to reverse the damaging policy.
In February, Biden promised to reinstate LGBTQ protections rolled back by Trump "on day one" of his presidency, including "ensuring transgender individuals can serve openly in the military."
"It’s simple: every American who is qualified to serve, should be able to — and we should all be grateful for their service and courage," Biden said back in February, noting that reversing the trans ban was "not just the right thing to do, but it’s in our national interest."
The Palmer Center, a research institute focusing on gender and sexuality in the military, released a study this month demonstrating the veracity of that statement.
The ban has done damage to the military's recruitment, retention, morale, unit cohesion, reputation, and medical care, and good order and discipline, the study showed, citing in-depth telephone interviews, data analyses, review of scholarly literature, and a survey of 97 transgender service members.
By stigmatizing transgender members of the military — an estimated 14,700 people — the policy makes it difficult for them to continue their service, thereby harming retention. In a survey response, one transgender service member said simply, "I don't want to have to fight for my right to exist anymore."
According to the study, the ban is bad for recruitment because it discourages transgender and gender-nonconforming people from considering a career in the military in the first place. But it also harms recruitment for young people in general, since recent polls have found an overwhelming majority of young people favor inclusive military policies.
The policy has "soured some of the top educational institutions on military service, straining a common pipeline for recruitment, especially of officers," the study continued. Numerous law schools have stood against the ban and students have protested networking events involving the military, researchers said.
The ban also hurts unit cohesion because transgender service members concealing their gender undermines trust between service members; it also encourages anti-transgender harassment either by commanders or peers, the study explained.
A Navy aviation electronics technician who spoke to the researchers explained, "Before the ban, the Navy's stance was that transgender people are real people and they have a status and we're going to help them transition to what they need to be so they can continue to serve."
She added, "So there was pressure for the leadership to push down, [from the top], acceptance of trans people. But now that the ban has been reinstated, there's no longer anyone trying to accept us anymore."
The policy has made transgender members of the military feel "devalued" and that their careers have been "thrown into uncertainty," researchers said.
One transgender service member said of falling morale, "We’re angry and we're scared. Every trans service member I know, and I include myself, feels betrayed by this administration and by the flag officers who are going along with it. I personally have no faith in the Pentagon to do right by us, or any member of another marginalized group."
The ban also makes it difficult for transgender people to have honest conversations with medical providers because sharing some health information could risk a discharge.
In addition to Biden's vow to reverse anti-LGBTQ Trump administration policies, Biden has said he will make the Equality Act, a federal bill that prohibits discrimination against LGBTQ people in housing, public accommodations, and more, a legislative priority in his first 100 days in office.
Biden's plan to advance LGBTQ equality additionally includes improving programs to address LGBTQ veterans' needs and rolling back Defense Department that are discriminatory toward or in any way stigmatize people living with HIV, according to his campaign website.
The transgender military ban isn't the only Trump administration policy that harms LGBTQ service members and is far from the only issue Biden will need to confront upon taking office.
Under the Trump administration, for instance, the Defense Department enacted a policy that excluded the LGBTQ Pride flag from the list of flags allowed on military installations. House Democrats and LGBTQ military groups say the policy should be reversed.
"Minorities remain vastly underrepresented in commissioned officer and senior leader ranks. The action by the Department to implicitly ban the LGBTQ Pride flag only serves to create a discriminatory environment for LGBTQ service members and continue to isolate them from their fellow Airmen, Marines, Sailors, and Soldiers," read a letter signed by 34 Democratic lawmakers to Defense officials in late July.
Rep. Anthony Brown (MD), an Army veteran, spearheaded the effort.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.