Victory! Court Orders U.S. Military to Immediately Halt Ban of Transgender Troops

by HRC Staff

“There is no valid reason to deny transgender people the right to serve their country.”

Today, a federal court in Seattle ordered an immediate halt to the Trump Administration’s discriminatory plan to ban transgender people from serving openly in the U.S. Armed Services. The ruling came in the lawsuit brought by Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN challenging the ban and prevents the ban from being implemented while the case proceeds.

“There is no valid reason to deny transgender people the right to serve their country. The court heard that argument, and agreed,” Lambda Legal Senior Attorney Peter Renn said. “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. Today’s ruling allows them to continue to do the job of defending our country while the case continues. With yet another court ruling that the President has engaged in unlawful discrimination, the policy’s days are clearly numbered, and its final demise can’t come fast enough for those whose military careers hang in the balance.”

Today’s ruling came in response to the motion for a preliminary injunction Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN filed in September in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. The motion asked 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.

“I'm incredibly relieved to know that I can continue to do my job and serve our nation without the additional stress of worrying that I could be discharged as soon as next March,” Staff Sergeant Cathrine Schmid said. “Being transgender has no impact on my ability to perform my duties, and I’m grateful that I will be able to continue to serve the people of the United States as this case moves through the courts.”

"The President’s 'guidance' to remove transgender service members from the United States armed forces and deny them healthcare was nothing less than the initiation of a purge,” OutServe-SLDN Legal Director Peter Perkowski said. “This court has recognized the President's action for what it is--a discriminatory attack on the people who have volunteered their lives for the defense of the country. Qualified and dedicated individuals serve our country each and every day in the armed services and thousands happen to be transgender. An individual’s gender identity is not a valid reason to deny them the right to serve their country in uniform; a fact even the Pentagon has affirmed. Judge Pechman's ruling today is a testament to that argument and a step to reassure our transgender service members that this country will have their backs even if the Commander-in-Chief does not.”

In the lawsuit, Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN represent nine individual plaintiffs and three organizational plaintiffs. The individual plaintiffs, all of whom are transgender, include:

  • 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;
  • Chief Warrant Officer Lindsey Muller, a 35-year-old woman and 17-year member of the U.S. Army serving at Camp Humphreys near Seoul, South Korea;
  • Petty Officer Second Class Phillip Stephens, a 30-year-old man and five-year member of the U.S. Navy serving at Eglin Air Force Base near Valparaiso, Florida;
  • Petty Officer Second Class 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.;
  • Ryan Karnoski, a 23-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;
  • Drew Layne, a recent high-school graduate from Corpus Christi, Texas, who is 17 years old and, with parental support, wants to join the Air Force; and
  • A ninth individual currently serving in the military who remains anonymous.

The organizational plaintiffs are the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Seattle-based Gender Justice League, and the American Military Partner Association (AMPA), who joined the lawsuit on behalf of their transgender members harmed by the ban.

In October, a U.S. District Court judge in Washington, D.C., granted a preliminary injunction in a similar lawsuit challenging the transgender military service ban filed by the National Center for Lesbian Rights and GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, and in November, a U.S. District Court judge in Maryland granted a preliminary injunction in a case filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The lawsuit is Karnoski v. Trump. Read more about the case here:

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.

“Today's preliminary injunction is a victory in the fight against Donald Trump and Mike Pence's cruel and animus-fueled policy," said HRC National Press Secretary Sarah McBride. “Allowing this discriminatory ban to take effect would cause serious harm to our national defense and to the thousands of transgender people serving and wishing to serve their country. We thank Lambda Legal and Outserve-SLDN for representing us in this landmark case, and we are grateful that Judge Pechman has ruled against discrimination."

“We’re thankful for this judge’s decision which gives us hope that justice will prevail,” said AMPA President Ashley Broadway-Mack. “Our transgender service members and their families deserve better than to be singled out by the Trump-Pence administration for discrimination. They deserve better than the uncertainty, fear, and turmoil President Trump’s transgender ban has inflicted on their lives. At the end of the day, what matters is whether or not someone is qualified and willing to serve, not their gender identity.”

"Gender Justice League is relieved by this injunction and the justice that it has served for our members,” said Gender Justice League Executive Director Danni Askini. “We have seen our members’ lives thrown into chaos since the July tweets barring open transgender service. We hope that this is the first step in bringing closure to this case and serving justice and equality for our members and their families who have been deeply impacted by the ban on transgender military service."