One Year In, We Continue to Fight to #ProtectTransTroops as Attempted Military Ban Is Stayed By Multiple Courts

By Shane Stahl • July 26, 2018 • 3:08 pm

Exactly one year ago today, July 26, President Trump sent a series of tweets declaring that he would seek to ban openly transgender people from serving in the armed forces, contradicting an earlier promise during his presidential campaign to uphold and protect the rights of LGBTQ Americans.

The decision sent shockwaves through the transgender community; approximately 15,000 transgender soldiers are currently enlisted in the military. Since then, Freedom for All Americans has joined with many of our national partners across the country to advocate and fight for the dignity of transgender soldiers. Here’s a look back at the President’s action, and how to date, how supporters of fairness and equality for all have mobilized to oppose discrimination and #ProtectTransTroops, and how the judiciary has delayed its implementation.

Tweets and Consequences

On the morning of July 26, 2017, the President used his official Twitter account to issue a directive that he would immediately seek to ban openly transgender people from serving in the U.S. military, stating in part that the military “…cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender [service] in the military would entail.”

Immediately following the announcement, Freedom for All Americans President of Strategy and then-Acting CEO Kasey Suffredini issued a statement that read, in part:

“Transgender service members are making the same sacrifices as their brothers and sisters in arms. They are full of the same pride in our country and commitment to our founding ideals as everyone else. We’ve come a long way in ensuring that everyone is treated fairly and equally in the armed forces, and we shouldn’t for one second let anyone take us backwards.”

A report issued by The Palm Center shortly after the President’s intentions were announced stated that implementing the attempted military ban would cost approximately $960 million dollars, in direct contradiction to Trump’s initial claim that continuing to allow transgender service would be overly costly.

On August 9, the first lawsuit from transgender service members against the Trump administration challenging the military ban, Doe v. Trump, was filed by the legal teams at GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and Foley, Hoag LLP and WilmerHale. Over the next month, three more lawsuits were filed on behalf of transgender servicemembers by our partners at Lambda Legal, the ACLU, and Equality California — Karnoski v. Trump, Stone v. Trump, and Stockman v. Trump – respectively.

Near the end of the month, President Trump signed a directive officially banning transgender soldiers from military service, and the White House indicated it would soon move to issue guidance to the Pentagon regarding implementation of the ban.

The Judiciary Strikes Back

The first legal decision on the ban occurred October 30, 2017, when the United States District Court for the District of Columbia granted a preliminary injunction against the ban’s implementation in the Doe case. This cleared the way for transgender people to begin enlisting in the military on January 1, 2018, a deadline previously established by the Obama administration when they decided to lift the previous service restriction.

The U.S. District Court of Maryland issued a second injunction on November 21, 2017, this time in the Stone case. By this point, many high-ranking former military leaders had announced their support of open transgender service, including all three former Service Secretaries (Army, Navy, and Air Force), the former Deputy Surgeon General for Mobilization, Readiness, and Army Reserve Affairs, and the former Acting Under Secretary for Personnel and Readiness.

Closing out the year, on December 11, 2017, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who had made the initial ruling in the Doe case, denied a request from the government to stay her previously issued injunction. The very same day, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington State issued its own preliminary injunction in the Karnoski case, making it the fourth ruling in the course of three months to uphold the dignity of transgenders soldiers and potential enlistees.

New Year, Same Story (Thus Far)

On January 1, 2018, because the President’s attempted ban had been delayed by four courts, transgender people were legally permitted to begin enlisting in the armed forces. Pentagon spokesperson Maj. Dave Eastburn confirmed that the processing of transgender recruits would begin on January 1, following the ruling in Washington state.

On March 23, 2018, the Trump Administration announced its intention to see the military ban move forward, after receiving an implementation plan from Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and soon-to-be installed Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie.

During the early months of 2018, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York led the charge in questioning the heads of every military division during a series of various hearings, asking each if they took issue with transgender people serving in the military. All five chiefs — representing the Air Force, Navy, Army, Marines, and Coast Guards — agreed unanimously that transgender soldiers were not a detriment to troop readiness, morale, or the ability of a military unit, and all stating they were not aware of any outstanding issues.

On June 18, the Washington court rejected the administration’s request for a stay on the previously issued preliminary injunction in the Karnoski case, with Judge Marsha Pechman writing: “The status quo shall remain ‘steady as she goes,’ and the preliminary injunction shall remain in full force and effect nationwide.” Exactly one month later on July 18, the most recent ruling was issued as the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals again rejected the administration request for a stay in Karnoski. This most recent decision marks the seventh time a court has rejected implementation of the proposed ban.

Freedom for All Americans has worked in concert with several of our legal and national partners to continue advocacy for transgender soldiers, in addition to sharing their stories – including tories of people like Master Chief Navy Petty Officer Taryn WIlson, who transitioned on the job after more than 20 years of service in order to make it easier for her young transgender charges to be themselves; people like Ashley N. Scott, a disabled veteran who transitioned following his service; and people like Natalie Rose, who serves in the Texas National Guard and has advocated extensively for the rights of transgender people in the Lone Star State.

As the fight against this proposed discriminatory ban continues, we will continue to fight for the freedom of transgender people to both serve their country and be open about who they are, without fear of discrimination or negative consequences. It is imperative we continue to stand up, and demand that our government #ProtectTransTroops.

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