WASHINGTON — The Pentagon on Wednesday erased a Trump-era ban on transgender people serving in the military, issuing new rules that would offer them access to gender transition care and medical services denied under the Trump administration.
The sweeping guidelines allow transgender people to enlist and serve openly as the gender they identify with and receive medically necessary care authorized by law. They also prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity.
The change follows an executive order signed by President Biden in January that restored protections put in place during the Obama administration that had opened the ranks of the armed services to transgender people. The order gave the Defense Department 60 days to evaluate the guidelines.
The Pentagon announced the shift on the same day that Mr. Biden proclaimed a transgender “day of visibility.” The president and top administration officials posted on Twitter that “transgender rights are human rights” and called for Americans to stamp out discrimination against transgender people.
Advocates for the reversal of the ban were elated.
“We have consistently said that restoring a policy of full inclusion for transgender troops would be straightforward,” Aaron Belkin, the director of the Palm Center, said in a statement. “This is a big step toward making our military stronger and fairer, and it recognizes years of research showing that a single standard for all service members improves readiness and allows for the widest possible pool of qualified personnel.”
John F. Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said during a news conference that the Defense Department would “lead by example” on the issue of transgender rights.
An estimated 1,000 to 8,000 service members identify as transgender, Stephanie Miller, the director of the Pentagon’s Office for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, said at the news conference, though Defense Department officials acknowledge that number is imprecise and could be higher. She also said that the estimated costs for medical treatment for transgender troops, which President Donald J. Trump cited as a reason for the ban, would be “a handful of a million dollars” per year.
“The Pentagon absolutely did the right thing today by re-establishing a policy of inclusion for transgender service members, who once again will be able to serve openly and proudly in their self-identified gender,” Representative Jackie Speier, Democrat of California and a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement.
While the move was expected, the swiftness with which it happened signaled a willingness by the Biden administration to put its stamp on social issues at the Defense Department. The Pentagon has also been looking at how the military has handled sexual assault issues.
Mr. Biden and Defense Department leaders are also wrestling with a reckoning on race at the Pentagon, where officials have had to confront a stark fact: Close to one in five of those arrested in connection with breaching the Capitol on Jan. 6 have ties to the military, and many have links to white supremacist organizations.
After the attack, the Pentagon has held a series of sessions to address extremist and white supremacist groups in the military. One of the first things Lloyd J. Austin III did after becoming the defense secretary was to order a servicewide “stand down” to address extremism in the ranks. The term refers to an issue — in the past it was safety or sexual assault or suicide — that the secretary has decided is important enough that it needs to be addressed through discussions with troops worldwide.