When military recruiting stations open Tuesday after the holiday, it will mark a major moment for transgender Americans waiting to enlist.
The enlistment policy announced by former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter in 2016 is moving forward, officially effective on January 1. Although the Obama administration had allowed service members to come out as transgender without being discharged, Tuesday will mark the first time any transgender American is authorized to openly enlist.
"Tomorrow is a big day for many transgender people who are eager to serve their country,” said Jennifer Levi, director of the Transgender Rights Project at GLAD — GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders. “We are excited for them and optimistic that all will move forward smoothly with the enlistment process."
GLAD has been fighting a legal battle as co-counsel alongside the National Center for Lesbian Rights on behalf of Equality California, effectively stopping President Trump from implementing his ban on transgender people serving openly in the U.S. Armed Forces.
Trump has lost a series of rulings. And the Department of Justice announced on Friday that it isn’t appealing to the Supreme Court in Doe v. Trump to try and stop people like Nicolas Talbott from enlisting. Talbott is one of a group of plaintiffs in another case, Stockman v. Trump, who sued and who has said he plans to call a military recruiter on Tuesday to schedule an appointment with the Military Entrance Processing Station.
The military in December issued a seven-page guidance to recruiters on how to test and process trans applicants. It includes instruction on everything from physical evaluation standards to which underwear to issue — men’s or women’s.
"We are thrilled that, starting tomorrow, transgender people who meet the same qualifications as others can enlist in the Armed Forces,” said Shannon Minter, legal director at NCLR. “Policies that single out transgender people for discrimination are divisive, unnecessary, and completely contrary to our nation's core values of equality and fairness. Transgender troops have already proved their ability to serve with honor and distinction. Preventing qualified individuals from enlisting solely because they are transgender weakens the military and harms our country.”
None of this means the legal fight is over, though. The DOJ pledges to continue opposing challenges to Trump’s ban in cases making their way through federal court.
“While tomorrow marks a great victory, we are not out of the woods yet,” said Minter. “As the cases challenging the ban proceed, it is critical that the community stay engaged and help us continue to educate the public and the courts that being transgender has nothing to do with a person's ability to contribute and serve."