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LGBT groups criticize NDAA deal that omits repeal of military transgender ban

By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 10, 2019

WASHINGTON — Multiple organizations that defend LGBT rights denounced Tuesday an agreement between Democrats and Republicans on the annual defense bill that omits a reversal of President Donald Trump’s transgender military ban.

House and Senate negotiators on the National Defense Authorization Act announced an agreement Monday that includes plans to create a Space Force, a 3.1% pay raise for the military and a gradual end to the “widow’s tax,” an offset that costs military families thousands of dollars each year.

Not present in the final compromise version of the fiscal 2020 defense bill is a measure to repeal restrictions on transgender people serving in the military. A coalition of eight LGBT organizations criticized its omission Tuesday.

“It is unconscionable that thousands of honorably serving transgender service members and their families will continue to live under the threat of discharge simply because of who they are,” the organizations wrote in a joint statement. “This ban is based on bias, not evidence.”

The Pentagon’s policy, which bars men and women from joining the military based on their transgender status, was implemented in April after the Supreme Court ruled it could move forward with the ban. Trump first announced his intent to create the ban more than two years ago.

Earlier this year, the House included in its version of the defense bill an amendment that would end the ban. The amendment, offered by Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., sought to implement military nondiscrimination protections on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.

Speier’s amendment passed the House with a vote of 242 to 187, with 10 Republicans voting in its favor.

The coalition of LGBT organizations criticized the White House and Republican leaders in Congress, whom they claimed “fought vigorously” to remove the amendment from the final version of the defense bill.

The organizations who signed onto the statement were: the Human Rights Campaign, the National Center for Transgender Equality, GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders, the Modern Military Association of America, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Palm Center.

Some lawmakers criticized the agreement for other reasons, including that the bill doesn’t have a House-passed provision to withdraw U.S. support from the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., praised the agreement Tuesday for its inclusion of 12 weeks of paid parental leave for federal workers and the end to the widow’s tax. However, she argued it didn’t include enough protections against toxic chemicals known as PFAS, which have contaminated water at hundreds of military bases.

Votes on the final version of the defense bill are expected to start this week. The agreement must be passed by both chambers of Congress before it goes to Trump to be signed into law.

Wentling.nikki@stripes.com
Twitter: @nikkiwentling

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