Ashley Nefzger, the first active-duty Navy SEAL to identify as transgender, praised President Joe Biden on Friday for his decision to reverse President Donald Trump’s ban on transgender individuals serving in the military.
In his first week as president, Biden issued an executive order reversing the Trump-era policy on transgender troops. Speaking with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Nefzger said the reversal was “a weight lifted not only off of my shoulders, but off of so many transgender individuals that are serving right now, but also all of those who are not open and who are still unsure if they want to come out or unsure of themselves.”
“I think it’s going to give a lot of other individuals that chance to finally be themselves while not having to worry about anything else, and hiding,” Nefzger added.
Nefzger has been serving in the military since 2002 and officially transitioned in 2019, the same year the U.S. Supreme Court allowed Trump’s transgender ban to go into effect.
Nefzger said there was talk ahead of Biden’s inauguration about reversing the Trump-era policy but she said, “I didn’t necessarily want to get my hopes up. … I was hopeful for it, but I also wanted to keep my expectations at bay on what exactly it was going to mean.”
Biden’s executive order, Nefzger said, is “allowing everybody to continue to be themselves without having to worry of any adverse effects from their command or being pushed out. And it allows them to serve with freedom in order to do their job.”
Announcing Biden’s order, the White House said a 2016 DOD-ordered study found that allowing transgendered individuals to serve will have “only a minimal impact on military readiness and healthcare costs.”
The White House said, “Allowing all qualified Americans to serve their country in uniform is better for the military and better for the country because an inclusive force is a more effective force. Simply put, it’s the right thing to do and is in our national interest.”
In 2018, former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis issued a memo saying the the policy to allow transgender troops was potentially damaging to the military’s readiness and lethality. Mattis said a study by the Obama administration to weigh the potential impacts of allowing transgender service members “glossed over the impacts of healthcare costs, readiness and unit cohesion.” Mattis determined that those diagnosed with gender dysphoria also experience dangerous side effects such as suicide, anxiety, depression and drug addiction, and that surgeries and therapies were not successful in alleviating these side effects.
Currently, more than 1.3 million individuals serve in the military on active duty. Estimates of 2,400 to 15,000 service members are believed to be transgendered. SPART*A, the Service Members, Partners, Allies for Respect and Tolerance for All, told CNN it is in contact with more than 300 more transgender individuals who are ready to enlist.