Amendment Aims to Overturn Ban on Transgender Military Service

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July 26, 2017: A supporter of LGBT rights holds up an "equality flag" on Capitol Hill in Washington, during an event supporting transgender members of the military. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
July 26, 2017: A supporter of LGBT rights holds up an "equality flag" on Capitol Hill in Washington, during an event supporting transgender members of the military. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

A bipartisan amendment to the proposed defense policy bill would extend Supreme Court protections against workplace sex discrimination to transgender service members.

The amendment offered June 25 by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, will likely get a vote this week as the Senate moves to pass its version of the $740 billion National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2021.

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In statements, Gillibrand and Collins cited a June 15 landmark decision by the Supreme Court that found a 1964 civil rights statute against sex discrimination in the workplace applied to LGBTQ individuals.

In his majority opinion in the 6-3 ruling, Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, a Trump administration nominee, wrote that "an individual's homosexuality or transgender status is not relevant to employment decisions."

"Now that the Supreme Court has ruled that LGBTQ people are protected from workplace discrimination, we must ensure these protections are extended to every American, especially transgender service members," said Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Collins agreed.

"If individuals are willing to put on the uniform of our country and risk their lives for our freedoms, then we should be expressing our gratitude to them, not trying to kick them out of the military," she said.

She referred to a series of tweets by President Donald Trump in July 2017 in which he stated that the government would no longer "accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military."

The tweets led to the reversal of an Obama-era policy that had allowed individuals to be recruited and serve openly without fear of discharge.

The new DoD policy, which went into effect in April 2019, barred transgender individuals from serving or enlisting in the military in most cases unless they served in their original biological sex assignment.

Those who entered the military before April 12, 2019, were excepted, and the policy permitted waivers on a case-by-case basis.

Advocacy groups have argued that the new policy effectively amounts to a ban on transgender service, and four separate lawsuits are currently ongoing to overturn the policy.

With the support of advocacy groups, Nicolas Talbott, who transitioned to male at age 17, has continued to pursue his dream of becoming an officer. "

It's always been my desire to serve since the time I was a little kid," he told Military.com, adding that the policy change had left him in limbo.

Talbott had previously begun working with an Air Force National Guard recruiter while a student at Kent State University in Ohio. But "they kept pushing back the medical exam," he said. He said he later was told that "they just couldn't move forward with the enlistment."

Talbott said he re-enrolled at Kent State and joined the Army's Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program, but was then told that he would not be eligible to complete the course.

"I'd very much like to get back in that program and become an intelligence officer," Talbott said, and the Supreme Court decision gave him encouragement.

"I'm very optimistic" that the decision will lead to another DoD policy change that will permit him to serve, he said.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

Related: Navy Grants First Service Waiver to Transgender Officer

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