“This is reinstating a position that the previous commanders and, as well as the secretaries, have supported. And what I’m doing is enabling all qualified Americans to serve their country in uniform,” Biden said, speaking from the Oval Office just before signing the executive order.
“President Biden believes that gender identity should not be a bar to military service, and that America’s strength is found in its diversity,” a fact sheet provided by the White House on the executive order reads.
Harris and Austin are the first two Black people to hold their respective positions, and their joint appearance underscores the record diversity of Biden’s administration. Austin is the first Black secretary of defense, and Harris is the first Black vice president, as well as the first woman and first South Asian to hold the position.
Austin addressed the ban in his confirmation hearing on Friday and told the Senate Armed Services Committee: “I truly believe, senator, that as I said in my opening statement, that if you’re fit and you’re qualified to serve and you can maintain the standards, you should be allowed to serve.”
He was confirmed by the Senate later that day, after being granted a congressional waiver to serve in his post because he was assuming the post before waiting seven years after active-duty service. Austin was the second member of Biden’s Cabinet to be confirmed by the Senate, following Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines.
Trump first announced the ban on Twitter in July 2017, arguing transgender people in the military would lead to “tremendous medical costs and disruption.”
The policy, later officially released by then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis in 2018, blocks individuals who have been diagnosed with a condition known as gender dysphoria from serving with limited exceptions. The policy specifies individuals without the condition can serve, but only if they do so according to the sex they were assigned at birth.
Trump’s ban reversed a policy initially approved by the Defense Department under former President Barack Obama, which was still under final review, that would have allowed transgender individuals to openly serve in the military.
CNN’s Arlette Saenz contributed to this report.