President Biden signed an executive order on Monday to lift restrictions on transgender Americans who wish to serve in the U.S. military.
Biden’s order allows all transgender soldiers to serve openly and to receive gender reassignment surgery under the military’s health plans.
“President Biden believes that gender identity should not be a bar to military service, and that America’s strength is found in its diversity,” the White House said in a statement.
Former president Trump announced the partial ban on transgender soldiers via Twitter in 2017, taking then-secretary of defense James Mattis by surprise. The Obama administration took steps in 2016 to allow transgender soldiers to serve openly for the first time.
Trump’s ban allowed transgender soldiers to serve as long as they did not require “special accommodations,” such as hormone therapy or gender-reassignment surgery. A 2016 study by the Rand Corporation concluded that medical costs to the U.S. military for transgender-related issues stood between $2.4 million and $8.4 million annually.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told a Senate panel on Friday that he supports ending restrictions on transgender soldiers, in response to a question from Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.).
“I truly believe…that if you’re fit and you’re qualified to serve and you can maintain the standards, you should be allowed to serve,” Austin said. “And, you can expect that I will support that throughout.”
Trump’s ban on transgender soldiers drew a series of lawsuits, including one that reached the Supreme Court in 2019. At the time, the Court allowed the ban to remain in place while declining to consider the legality of the order.
According to the Pentagon, there are roughly 9,000 service members who identify as transgender but less than 1,000 have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria.