Then-acting Air Force Secretary Eric Fanning speaks at the 2013 Defense One Summit.

Then-acting Air Force Secretary Eric Fanning speaks at the 2013 Defense One Summit. Scott Ash/USAF

‘The Ban Should Never Have Been Imposed’

Former Army Secretary Eric Fanning says it’s time for Congress to pass a law that protects transgender servicemembers.

Eric Fanning remembers the morning of July 26, 2017. In a series of three tweets, Donald Trump announced that transgender Americans could no longer serve in the U.S. military,  reinstalling a ban that Fanning, as Army secretary, and other Obama administration officials had overturned 13 months earlier.

“When he tweeted that…it was like a gut punch,” Fanning recalled on Monday.

Fanning, who was the first openly gay service secretary, applauded President Joe Biden’s signing of an executive order that once again allows transgender troops to serve openly.

“The ban should never have been imposed,” he said. “Not in my lifetime, have we ever allowed someone to serve, and then reversed course on that.”

Now, Fanning — who helped overturn the ban during the Obama administration as chief of staff to then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter and as Army secretary — said it’s time for Congress to ensure that transgender servicemembers’ cannot again be disqualified from serving in the military with the stroke of a a presidential pen.

“This needs to be changed legislatively…so the protections are more permanent,” Fanning said. “You've got these Americans who volunteered to serve who are in limbo. Those that were on their way in and the accession was put on hold, those who are in who don't know what this means for reenlistments or promotions or deployments or anything like that. An executive order is nice, effecting a change, but we've seen it can be reversed.”

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., said she would introduce legislation to the fiscal 2022 National Defense Authorization Act to “to secure a permanent policy of nondiscrimination for our armed forces.”

Speaking in the Oval Office Monday, Biden said his executive order would allow “qualified Americans to serve their country in uniform…essentially restoring the situation as it existed before, with transgender personnel. If qualified in every other way, can serve their government in the United States military.”

A 2016 RAND report estimated that there were about 4,000 transgender people serving in the military.