July 11, 2019 at 2:08 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
House approves ‘Harry Truman’ amendment to restore trans military service
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), second from right, join transgender service members in the Capitol Rotunda before the State of the Union Address on Feb. 5, 2019. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. House approved on Thursday an amendment as part of major defense policy legislation that would not only restore only transgender military service, but prohibit the U.S. armed forces from discriminating against LGBT service members.

The House approved the measure, introduced by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), by a party-line vote of 242-187 as part of the fiscal year 2020 defense authorization bill.

Speier said in a statement the House vote on the amendment is “a watershed moment in the fight to celebrate and protect open transgender military service,” which the Defense Department banned in April following a directive from President Trump.

“Courageous transgender servicemembers continue to fight for our country despite the president’s hateful ban and deserve to know we stand with them,” Speier said. “Our country has a shameful history of preventing people from serving based on bias, ignorance and malice. This is the first time Congress has voted to ensure that no discriminatory standard based on race, religion, national origin or sex can prevent qualified individuals from serving their country. Our military is strongest when it embodies our nation’s values.”

Joining the united Democratic caucus in voting in favor of the bill were 10 Republicans: Reps. Susan Brooks (Ind.), Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.), Trey Hollingsworth (Ind.), William Hurd (Texas), John Katko (N.Y.), Tom Reed (N.Y.), Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), Steve Stivers (Ohio), Fred Upton (Mich.) and Greg Walden (Ore.).

When the vote was initially being tallied, a total of 11 Republicans, not 10, were shown as having voted in favor of the amendment. A Democratic aide said the number went down because Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.) changed his vote from “yes” to “no” at the last second. The Blade has placed a request in with Waltz’s office seeking comment why on the lawmaker changed his vote.

Known as the “Harry Truman” amendment, the measure is modeled after the 1948 executive order President Truman signed desegregating the military.

The amendment states the military must consider applicants based on gender-neutral occupational standards and military occupational specialty, but “may not include any criteria relating to the race, color, national origin, religion, or sex (including gender identity or sexual orientation) of an individual.”

Further, the amendment states any Defense Department personnel policy for members of the armed forces “shall ensure equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed forces, without regard to race, color, national origin, religion, and sex (including gender identity and sexual orientation).”

Aaron Belkin, director of the San Francisco-based Palm Center, said in a statement the amendment “is the best and perhaps only way to ensure that military policy reflects what both military experts and the American public believe: That standards for military service should apply to everyone equally, based on what it takes to do the job.”

“History shows that, from President Harry Truman’s racial desegregation of the military through ending ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ our armed forces are stronger when they are inclusive and reflect the society they serve,” Belkin said. “The American people overwhelmingly support non-discrimination in the military and they respond with open arms when Americans of any identity perform at their peak for our national honor, whether in military or civilian life.”

Also hailing passage of the amendment was Navy veteran Andy Blevins, who’s executive director of the LGBT group Modern Military Association of America.

“This bipartisan vote sends a powerful message of support to the thousands of transgender service members that have been unconscionably singled out by this administration for discrimination,” Blevin said. “Every service member should be treated with dignity and respect, and there should be no place in the military for harmful and discriminatory policies that have nothing to do with a service member’s ability to accomplish the mission.”

The “Harry Truman” amendment wasn’t the only measure related to transgender military service the House approved as part of the defense authorization bill.

The other amendment introduced by Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.) would require the U.S military to report to Congress on the number of transgender individuals who sought and were denied waivers under the transgender ban to accede into the armed forces. The House approved the measure by voice vote, according to a Democratic aide.

“Dozens of high-ranking military officials and a majority of Americans agree: transgender service members enhance readiness, make great contributions to our armed forces, and should be allowed to serve openly in our military,” Brown said in a statement. “Anyone who is capable of serving our country honorably should be afforded the opportunity to do so, and definitively knowing the number of people who are denied this opportunity because of the president’s bigoted ban is critical understanding it’s impact on our national security.”

Once the House approves the underlying defense authorization bill, lawmakers will hash out differences in conference committee between the House and Senate versions. The Senate approved its version of the bill last month. It remains to be seen whether the LGBT provision in the House version will remain intact in the conference committee agreement, but any such measure would face an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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