Harvard Law School students and faculty said they are encouraged by the Biden administration's reversal of a ban on transgender individuals joining the United States military.
Former President Donald J. Trump, who announced the ban on Twitter in July 2017, stated at the time that the U.S. government would not allow transgender people to “serve in any capacity” in the military. During his first week in office, President Joe Biden signed a Jan. 25 executive order stating gender identity should not disqualify any Americans from military service.
Alexander L. Chen, who is the founding director of the Law School’s LGBTQ+ Advocacy Clinic, said that countless people’s lives were “thrown into confusion and dismay” because of the former president’s “thoughtless tweet.”
In response to the ban and military recruitment interviews held at the Law School's campus, in September 2017 more than a dozen students staged a sit-in, which was organized by HLS student groups Lambda and Queer Trans People of Color.
At the time, Law School Dean John F. Manning ’82 wrote in an email to students that while he acknowledged allowing the military on campus was an “exception” to the school’s anti-discrimination policy, the Law School had to allow military interviews because of the Solomon Amendment, a rule which requires federally-funded universities to permit on-campus military recruiting.
Current Co-President of HLS Lambda Matthew P. Shields said Lambda advocated for its members to stop receiving unsolicited emails from the Judge Advocate General’s Corps — the branch of the U.S. military concerned with military law. The organization formulated a template individuals could fill out requesting to opt out of the government organization's communications.
“It’s extraordinarily insensitive to ask for students to apply to a job that they cannot have simply because of their identity for purely discriminatory reasons,” Shields said.
Zachary U. Boulden, who also serves as Lambda co-president, said the Law School’s Office of Public Interest Advising helped Lambda handle the unsolicited military recruitment emails by reaching out to the recruiter on the student group's behalf.
The Law School has also provided Lambda with amelioration funds for the past several years following the ban's implementation, per Shields. Shields said the organization has used the funds in “productive ways” and that he hopes the Law School does not stop providing funds to the group following the ban's reversal.
“Just because the policy is lifted doesn’t mean the damage done has been repaired,” Shields said. “It is just nice to have that money and to try to be able to put it towards, in some way, bettering the law school and hopefully, the trans community at large.”
Boulden said Lambda has been in communication with the Law School on how best to use the funds to benefit transgender individuals.
“We’re hoping to partner with a small journal at the Law School to create a prize for work on transgender legal issues,” Boulden said.
Chen, who litigated several cases against the transgender military ban, said that while not all court decisions ruled favorably for transgender individuals, he believes the lawsuits called for serious administrative action.
“I think the lawsuits were very critical because they, in the meantime, put a pause on that policy, saved the careers of people who were already openly serving and really put the issue on the agenda of the next administration that this is an important priority area if you care about LGBTQ rights,” he said. “You need to do something about this.”
Come the next presidential election, Chen added, he believes there will be further evidence that there is no legitimate reason to ban transgender individuals from serving.
“Regardless of the next presidential election outcome, I would be highly surprised if a future of Republican president would act in as rash manner as this one, especially because at that time we'll have four more years of evidence that there’s absolutely no problem, as a general matter with transgender people serving in the military,” he said.
—Staff writer Emmy M. Cho can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.