The U.S. House of Representatives today approved an amendment to a defense spending bill that would reverse Donald Trump's ban on transgender people in the military.
The House passed the amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act by a vote of 242-187, mostly along party lines, the Washington Blade reports; Democrats were united in support, and 10 Republicans voted with them. It was sponsored by Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier of California.
"The amendment states the military must consider applicants based on gender-neutral occupational standards and military occupational specialty, but 'may not include any criteria relating to the race, color, national origin, religion, or sex (including gender identity or sexual orientation) of an individual,'" according to the Blade. It is named after President Harry Truman, who issued an order ending racial segregation in the military in 1948.
The House also approved an amendment sponsored by Democrat Anthony Brown of Maryland, which "would require the U.S military to report to Congress on the number of transgender individuals who sought and were denied waivers under the transgender ban to accede into the armed forces," the Blade reports. It passed on a voice vote.
Now the House must vote on the defense authorization act as a whole, and then it must be reconciled with a version OK'd last month by the Republican-majority Senate, which lacked the trans-inclusive amendments. The Senate may not care to add them. But supporters of transgender people's right to serve were celebrating today.
The vote on the Speier amendment was "a watershed moment in the fight to celebrate and protect open transgender military service," the congresswoman said in a prepared statement.
"Courageous transgender servicemembers continue to fight for our country despite the president's hateful ban and deserve to know we stand with them," she added. "Our country has a shameful history of preventing people from serving based on bias, ignorance and malice. This is the first time Congress has voted to ensure that no discriminatory standard based on race, religion, national origin or sex can prevent qualified individuals from serving their country. Our military is strongest when it embodies our nation's values."
The Supreme Court has allowed the ban to go into effect while challenges to it are heard in lower courts, but many trans military members are still serving. The Department of Defense has announced that it would begin discharging transgender service members who come out after April 12 of this year. The ban also prevents new enlistments by trans Americans.
Brown likewise praised trans troops. "Dozens of high-ranking military officials and a majority of Americans agree: transgender service members enhance readiness, make great contributions to our armed forces, and should be allowed to serve openly in our military," he said in a statement, according to the Blade. "Anyone who is capable of serving our country honorably should be afforded the opportunity to do so, and definitively knowing the number of people who are denied this opportunity because of the president's bigoted ban is critical to understanding its impact on our national security."
The Human Rights Campaign lauded the passage of the Speier amendment. "Transgender troops have served openly with distinction for years, and they and their fellow service members deserve nothing less than the respect of a grateful nation," National Press Secretary Sarah McBride said in a press release. "The Trump-Pence administration's trans troop ban goes against medical experts, military leadership and budget analysts; it is unsound, unpopular, and unpatriotic. We are grateful to Congresswoman Speier and the strong, bipartisan majority of the House who voted for this amendment to ensure all transgender military service members have equal nondiscrimination protections."
Attorneys with GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, two of the organizations representing trans service members fighting the ban in court, likewise issued statements praising the vote.
"We applaud the leadership shown by bipartisan members of Congress in their efforts to reverse this policy which turns away qualified, dedicated Americans who want to serve their country," said Jennifer Levi, director of the Transgender Rights Project at GLAD. "Military leaders and the American people see this ban for what it is -- baseless discrimination that weakens our military."
"Diversity is an asset to our institutions and that includes the U.S. military, added Shannon Minter, legal director at NCLR. "We've seen this hold true time and again -- through desegregation, the integration of women, and the end of 'don't ask, don't tell.' "Allowing transgender people to serve on equal terms in our nation's military will only make our military and our nation stronger."