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President Biden Repeals Trump-Era Ban On Transgender Troops

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

President Biden has signed an executive order reversing the ban on trans people serving in the U.S. military. Studies suggest that trans people serve in the military at about twice the rate of the overall U.S. population. Biden's order stops involuntary discharges of trans personnel who were already serving and calls on the Pentagon to review the files of service personnel forced out under the ban. Two years ago, we spoke with Army Staff Sergeant Patricia King about a Supreme Court ruling allowing the Trump administration to enforce their ban. She joins us again this morning to talk about its reversal. Welcome to the program.

PATRICIA KING: Good morning. It's wonderful to be here.

MCCAMMON: Staff Sergeant King, you served in the military for nearly two decades, and trans people were actively serving in the U.S. military well before the Trump administration ban, of course. When that ban was first implemented by Trump, how did it affect you and your comrades?

KING: Well, it's important to remember that just prior to that, we had finally been given the right to serve openly, and that was hard-fought and hard-earned through decades of service members being put out of the military when they were discovered, through a number of studies, through our peers and other nations reversing their own trans ban policies. So this was a far - hard-fought and won victory. So for the Trump administration to arbitrarily turn it over, it was hard for so many in the community.

MCCAMMON: And you continued to serve after the ban was put in place. How did it affect your service?

KING: So for those of us who are openly serving and had been grandfathered in by the previous removal of the ban, we were allowed to continue to serve. But for so many of our peers who had not yet come out - maybe they weren't prepared - and for the hundreds and thousands who had interest in joining the military, there - they were told that they were not worthy, that they were not the same as everybody else. And that was really unfortunate.

MCCAMMON: And what are you hearing now? I mean, will these new executive orders from President Biden do enough to make trans people who might have wanted to join the military but couldn't feel welcome?

KING: So just as former President Trump signed an executive order that implemented the ban but then Secretary Mattis was the one who implemented it, President Biden has ordered that the ban be lifted, but it will be up to Secretary Austin and his staff and Joint Chiefs to figure out how that looks. And that's the concern, is - how long will that take? We've already had two studies on this. This is the most studied issue in the United States military in modern times. So it's time for us to see action. And that's my hope, is that we will see action quickly on this.

MCCAMMON: You've said it was disappointing after that hard-won battle to have it turned back under the Trump administration. I mean, what has life been like for trans service members the last few years?

KING: For - you know, the thing is that the ban was implemented on an April 19 and so for - of 2019. And so for those who had already been out, they were allowed to continue to serve. But it was questionable. They became the last white buffaloes. What would happen? Would they be allowed to be promoted? What happens when they leave? And for anybody who didn't make their - make it in time for somebody who was ready to come out on the 20 of April, they simply couldn't. They would serve in the same unit as an openly trans person but not allowed to be out themselves.

MCCAMMON: And briefly, just 30 seconds or so, what else would you like to see from the Biden administration on this issue?

KING: So it's important that we see this followed up with legislation. The National Defense Authorization Act must have a provision that makes it so that executive orders can't continue to bounce this issue back and forth. And we need to see it ripple through the VA.

MCCAMMON: Staff Sergeant Patricia King, thanks so much for joining us.

KING: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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