During his first week in office, President Joe Biden (D) overturned the Trump administration policy banning transgender individuals from serving in the U.S. military. At least, this is how the story was portrayed. The way this situation was covered in news outlets and talked about online is so misleading that it could be categorized as outright lying.
Articles and social media posts with language like, “Biden revokes Trump's ban on transgender Americans serving in the military” or “Joe Biden Repeals Donald Trump’s Transgender Military Ban” are part of the biggest problem. Statements like these aren’t necessarily lies, but they also aren’t completely truthful. The language of this reporting paints a significantly different picture of the situation than what actually happened.
The first and perhaps most important point of information to clarify is that transgender individuals, until Biden’s executive order on Jan. 25, have never been allowed to openly serve in the U.S. military. This may be surprising or confusing because of the previously mentioned statements. Saying that Biden’s policy overturned Trump’s ban on transgender individuals in the military implies that at some point, transgender individuals were allowed to serve but were prevented from doing so by the Trump administration.
The Trump administration didn’t create the laws preventing transgender individuals from serving openly in the military, and there’s been a strong effort to suppress or fail to mention this fact. In 2016, the Obama administration attempted to overturn policy implemented as early as 1953 that’s always barred transgender people from openly serving. During this time, there was a surge of reports, not unlike right now, celebrating that the Obama administration made history by finally allowing transgender people to openly serve, but they were never given the opportunity.
Unlike Biden’s policy, the Obama administration’s wasn’t an executive order, which meant it would take over a year to actually implement. During this time, the Trump administration simply put a stop to it, creating the small amount of justification for media to report on the event as Trump’s ban on transgender individuals in the military. It wasn’t a Trump administration ban that created the policy we had before Biden’s executive order, but it was the Obama administration’s failure to ever implement its policy. If Trump did something wrong in preventing transgenders from being able to openly serve, then so did every other president before him that either upheld these values or failed to do anything about it.
Another misleading point of information to clear up is that while transgender individuals have always been banned from serving openly, this only means that they couldn’t be open about their sexual identity. This is still horrible and discriminatory, but it’s estimated that over 10,000 transgender people serve in the U.S. military without being prevented from doing so. Furthermore, there exists no official record that any individual has ever been discharged from the military solely for being openly transgender. There have been cases in which transgender troops were discharged or prevented from acquiring a position, but these cases all revolved around medical, health or gender reassignment surgery issues.
There have also been reports that the Trump administration’s changes to the policy in this area allow transgenders to openly serve so long as they enlist under the sex they were assigned at birth and others that say the policy has no effects on transgender troops already in service.
Despite reports saying that after the Trump administration’s transgender ban goes into effect that anyone identifying as transgender would be discharged, the military reports that not a single person has been discharged for that reason.
Biden just reached a tremendous achievement for trans rights in the U.S. and finally allowed for transgender individuals to be open about their identity in our military. The problem is the media and those with large platforms misleading the public to spawn and direct hate, further dividing the nation.
Evan Holden is a sophomore political science major. Contact Evan at email@example.com.