LGBT Legal Rights Organizations Ask Federal Court to Halt Immediately All Efforts to Implement Dangerous and Discriminatory Ban
Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN today asked a federal court to halt immediately all steps taken to implement the Trump Administration’s discriminatory plan to ban transgender individuals from serving openly in the U.S. Armed Services.
“Before the President’s vicious attack on transgender Americans, transgender service members had been serving openly and proudly in every branch of the U.S. Military for more than a year,” Lambda Legal Senior Attorney Peter Renn said. “Since the President’s tweets, and his mandate for the Pentagon to implement his ban, those same service members have been branded as unfit to serve – to do the jobs they have been doing successfully – simply because they are transgender. That harm is real, it is palpable, and it is discriminatory.”
“It is unacceptable to destroy the careers of patriotic and courageous members of the U.S. military,” said Peter Perkowski, Legal Director for OutServe-SLDN. “This ban must be stopped dead in its tracks before it goes any further so that these brave men and women can focus on their real jobs – protecting and serving the country they love.”
Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN filed a motion for preliminary injunction on Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. The motion asks the court to preliminarily enjoin the government from taking actions inconsistent with the military policy that existed prior to July 26, 2017, under which transgender service members were allowed to serve openly, and transgender Americans seeking to join the military had a path forward for doing so.
In the lawsuit, Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN are now representing nine individual plaintiffs, all of whom are transgender, and three organizational plaintiffs – the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Seattle-based Gender Justice League, and the American Military Partner Association (AMPA).
The individual plaintiffs include six current service members and three individuals who wish to enlist. The current service members are: Staff Sergeant Cathrine (“Katie”) Schmid, a 33-year-old woman and 12-year member of the U.S. Army currently serving in Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington, who has applied to become an Army Warrant Officer; Petty Officer Terece Lewis, a 33-year-old woman and 14-year member of the U.S. Navy serving on the U.S.S. John C. Stennis out of Bremerton, Washington; Lindsey Muller, a 35-year-old woman and seventeen-year member of the U.S. Army serving in Seoul, South Korea; Phillip Stephens, a 29-year-old man and five-year member of the U.S. Navy serving at Eglin Air Force Base near Valparaiso, Florida; Megan Winters, a 29-year-old woman and five-year member of the U.S. Navy serving in the Office of Naval Intelligence in Washington, D.C.; and a sixth individual who remains anonymous. The three plaintiffs who seek to join the military are: Ryan Karnoski, a 22-year-old Seattle man who currently works as a social worker and wishes to become an officer doing social work for the military; Conner Callahan, a 29-year-old man who currently works in law enforcement in North Carolina; and Drew Layne, a high-school student from Corpus Christi, Texas, who is 17 years old and, with parental support, wants to join the Air Force.
“It is impossible to overstate how important it was when the Pentagon lifted the ban on open service, when I and other transgender service members were finally able to live and serve as our true and authentic selves,” Phillip Stephens said. “To read those tweets, to have the rug pulled out from under us, to be branded unfit to serve was devastating, not just for me, but really for the U.S. Military and military readiness as a whole.”
On July 26, President Trump posted a series of tweets in the early morning hours announcing that, “The United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.” The tweeted ban was swiftly and widely condemned by more than 56 retired generals and admirals and a large percentage of Republican and Democratic U.S. senators and representatives.
Despite that criticism, the White House proceeded to issue a memorandum directing the military to continue the ban on enlistment by those they learn are transgender, even though our armed forces currently are facing recruitment challenges, including in high demand positions like linguists, health care providers, social workers and aviators. The enlistment ban also bars transgender members of the military currently serving openly, such as Staff Sergeant Schmid, from obtaining appointments as officers.
The memorandum further orders the return to past anti-transgender policies affecting continued service and medical care of those known to be transgender after the development of an implementation plan by the Secretary of Defense. The Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN lawsuit against President Trump, the United States of America, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and the U.S. Department of Defense is based on the Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection, due process and free speech for all.
The government-commissioned RAND study released in May 2016 determined that the cost of providing transition-related care is exceedingly small relative to U.S. Armed Forces overall health care expenditures, that there are no readiness implications that prevent transgender members from serving openly, and that numerous foreign militaries have successfully permitted open service without a negative effect on effectiveness, readiness, or unit cohesion. Based on that study, the Pentagon lifted the ban on open service by transgender men and women in July 2016.
The Lambda Legal attorneys working on the case are: Peter Renn, Jon W. Davidson, Camilla B. Taylor, Tara Borelli, Natalie Nardecchia, Sasha Buchert, Kara Ingelhart, and Carl Charles. They are joined by co-counsel Peter Perkowski of OutServe-SLDN. Also on the legal team are pro-bono co-counsel at Kirkland & Ellis LLP and Newman Du Wors LLP.
Statements from Organizational Plaintiffs
"The thousands of transgender troops currently serving their country deserve immediate clarity and protection from the discriminatory whims of this president," said HRC National Press Secretary Sarah McBride. "No service member should be forced to fear for their future for one more day due to Donald Trump's unconstitutional order. We hope the court will recognize the urgency and severity of the situation and ensure that the promise made to these service members - that if they are willing and able to serve, they will be allowed to do so - is protected."
AMPA President Ashley Broadway-Mack said: "After the Defense Department assured transgender service members it was safe to come out and serve openly, President Trump is now singling them out for blatant discrimination. This shameful assault threatens the service member and his or her entire military family. As the nation's largest organization of LGBT military families, we are proud to be represented by Lambda Legal and Outserve-SLDN in our lawsuit challenging this unpatriotic and shameful transgender military ban. Any qualified American, regardless of their gender identity, should be able to serve their country."
“We know from our members about the fear and uncertainty created first by President Trump’s tweets and now the memo,” said Danni Askini, Executive Director, Gender Justice League. “Current transgender service members and those wanting to enlist are now in a constant state of limbo as the result of a hateful and counterproductive policy. We are hopeful the courts will uphold their duty to our ideals and halt this policy by granting the requested injunction.”