President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for U.S. Defense Secretary, Ret. Gen. Lloyd Austin, pledged to support reversing limitations on the ability of transgender Americans to openly serve in the U.S. Armed Forces.
During his confirmation hearing before the Senate on Tuesday, Lloyd backed Biden’s plan to overturn the Trump-era policies, which prevented new military members from serving as their preferred gender.
“I truly believe … as I said in my opening statement, that if you are a fit and you are qualified to serve and you can maintain the standards, you should be allowed to serve,” Austin said. “You can expect that I will support that throughout."
In 2016, former President Barack Obama instituted a historic policy that allowed transgender individuals to openly serve.
The Trump administration froze recruitment of new transgender military members in the spring of 2019, but currently serving members were able to continue to serve in their preferred gender.
Currently serving members who had not begun taking hormones or undergoing gender-affirming surgery, however, were not able to begin those processes. Those individuals were also required to serve as their biological gender.
Biden has pledged to reverse Trump’s order.
“Every American who is qualified to serve in our military should be able to do so—regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity and without having to hide who they are,” a statement on Biden’s website reads.
An estimated 14,700 troops on active duty and in the reserves identify as transgender, but not all seek treatment. Since July 2016, more than 1,500 service members have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria; as of Feb. 1, there were 1,071 currently serving. The Pentagon says it has spent about $8 million on transgender care since 2016. The military’s annual health care budget tops $50 billion.
Biden has also vowed to once again expand Title IX protections to transgender students, allowing them to use the bathroom and locker room of their choice. That, too, was a policy initiated by the Obama administration and reversed by Trump’s.
Austin was also asked by multiple lawmakers about sexual assault in the U.S. military, which is an issue he said he takes “seriously” and “personally.”
Austin said the prevalence of sexual assault in the U.S. military is a “leadership issue,” and that the culture and the climate both need to be addressed.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.