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During his presidency, Donald Trump proposed a policy banning transgender people from serving in the military.
After years of legal challenges, the administration enacted a policy that banned transgender people from newly enlisting in the military but allowed current members to continue serving if they met certain criteria.
Advocates described the policy as a ban, but Trump’s own administration rejected this characterization. Biden rescinded the policy.
In a speech before many of the nation’s leading conservative supporters, former President Donald Trump touted his tough stance on policies affecting transgender people.
"We banned transgender insanity from our military," Trump, who is again running for president, said March 4 at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland.
The Trump administration faced multiple legal battles after Trump announced via Twitter in 2017 that he would ban transgender people from serving in the military. President Joe Biden rescinded the policy upon taking office. We examined what became of the Trump-era litigation, whether the ban went into effect and what it meant for transgender service members.
On July 26, 2017, Trump tweeted the U.S. government would "not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military."
After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow......— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2017
....Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming.....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2017
This declaration aimed to reverse an Obama administration policy announced in June 2016 that specifically said transgender people would be allowed to openly serve in the military, effective July 1, 2017.
The Trump administration followed Trump’s tweet by extending Obama’s policy deadline to January 2018 and issuing an August 2017 memo directing the military to return to "the longstanding policy" of prohibiting openly transgender people from serving in the military. Trump’s campaign team directed us to that 2017 memo as evidence for his CPAC claim.
However, from 2017 to 2019, the administration’s policy faced legal challenges from several civil rights groups, including GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union.
In October 2017, a federal judge temporarily blocked Trump’s policy while the case moved through the courts. In November 2017, a second federal judge temporarily blocked the proposed ban and said that the government must continue paying for service members’ gender-affirming care, which the first judge did not include.
Responding to court orders, the Pentagon in December 2017 said it would begin allowing transgender recruits to enlist in the military in January 2018 if they complied with a set of physical, medical and mental conditions. These included a doctor’s note asserting that they had been stable for 18 months after a gender-affirming surgery, or after beginning to take hormones.
In March 2018, the White House announced a new policy saying people with "a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria" or people who may "require substantial medical treatment" including medicines and surgery "are disqualified from military service" barring limited exceptions. The Trump administration tried to get a Washington district court to overturn its temporary block citing the new plan, but the court denied the request.
In November 2018, Trump requested that the U.S. Supreme Court take the Washington district court case; this bypassed the usual judicial process, as the case was still in the lower courts. And in January 2019, the justices voted 5-4 to lift two of the temporary blocks on Trump’s ban. But, a different block from a Maryland federal court made it so the ban could not be implemented.
In April 2019, the March 2018 policy went into effect, allowing active transgender members to serve openly if they received a gender dysphoria diagnosis before April 2019. But active members who received a diagnosis after the policy’s implementation date would have to serve under the gender assigned to them at birth. People diagnosed with gender dysphoria or who had already undergone a transition could not enlist.
"Yes, Trump banned trans people from the military, and yes, the ban went into effect," said Aaron Belkin, the founding director of the Palm Center, a group that researches LGBTQ-related military policies.
Bree Fram, president of SPARTA, a transgender military advocacy organization, agreed that there was a ban on "anyone new coming into the military or anyone within the military pursuing gender transition."
But Trump’s own Defense Department rebutted this characterization.
"The 2018 policy on transgender service members is not a ban of transgender individuals," Thomas Crosson, the Pentagon’s deputy public affairs director, said in a 2019 video. "As a matter of fact, the policy specifically prohibits discrimination based on gender identity."
Trump said "we banned transgender" people from serving in the military.
After years of legal challenges, the Trump administration did ban transgender people from enlisting as new military service members, with limited exceptions. Transgender members who were already serving in the military and received a gender dysphoria diagnosis before the policy went into effect could continue serving openly.
LGBTQ rights advocates described the policy as a ban, but Trump’s own administration rejected this characterization.
Biden reversed Trump’s policy upon taking office.
The statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information. We rate it Mostly True.
Email exchange, Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, March 6, 2023
Email exchange, Bree Fram, president of SPARTA, March 7, 2023
Email exchange, Gillian Branstetter, communications strategist at ACLU, March 6, 2023
Email exchange, spokesperson, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, March 6, 2023
Email exchange, Donald Trump campaign spokesperson, March 6, 2023
C-SPAN, Former President Trump Remarks at CPAC 2023, March 4, 2023
Tweet, Donald Trump, July 26, 2017
Tweet, Donald Trump, July 26, 2017
U.S. Department of Defense, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter Announces Policy for Transgender Service Members, June 30, 2016
Federal Register, Military Service by Transgender Individuals, August 25, 2017
The New York Times, Judge Blocks Trump’s Ban on Transgender Troops in Military, Oct. 30, 2017
CNN, Second federal judge blocks Trump’s transgender military ban, Nov. 21, 2017
U.S. Department of Defense, DoD Complying with Court Orders to Access Transgender Persons into the Military, Dec. 11, 2017
Politico, Military Service by Transgender Individuals, March 23, 2018
ACLU, Breaking Down Trump's Trans Military Ban, March 30, 2018
The New York Times, Trump Asks Supreme Court for Fast Appeal on Transgender Military Ban, Nov. 23, 2018
NBC News, Trump's controversial transgender military policy goes into effect, April 12, 2019
PolitiFact, Biden signs executive order banning discrimination against transgender service members, Jan. 25, 2021
The White House, Executive Order on Enabling All Qualified Americans to Serve Their Country in Uniform, Jan. 25, 2021
U.S. Department of Defense, 5 Things to Know About DOD's New Policy on Military Service by Transgender Persons and Persons With Gender Dysphoria, March 13, 2019
Axios, Everything you need to know about the transgender military ban, April 12, 2019
AP News, New Pentagon transgender rule sets limits for troops, March 12, 2019
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