Human rights groups asked a federal judge Thursday to block President Trump’s proposed ban on transgender people serving in the military, producing statements by three former Obama administration U.S. service branch chiefs and a senior Pentagon official that a ban would harm readiness, staffing, recruitment and morale.
The move to stop the Trump administration edict came two days after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis formally responded to Trump’s official directive ordering the Pentagon chief to determine how to implement the policy.
In a statement, Shannon Minter, legal director for one of two gay rights organizations representing eight transgender U.S. service members, said their opposition to the “reckless” ban was joined by military experts “who know that ripping trained, experienced service members out of our armed forces — for no reason other than who they are — will leave gaping holes in our defense, compromise national security, and inhibit recruitment during a critical time.”
The groups said they sought an injunction now because even though Mattis has not taken action against current service members as the Pentagon reviews its options, he committed to carrying out the Trump policy by March 23. As a result, service members face the imminent prospect of being denied reenlistment, promotions, deployments and even medical care, the groups said.
Mattis also suspended prior plans to permit new transgender enlistees, threatening the careers of transgender students enrolled at the U.S. Naval Academy or in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, Minter said.
Transgender service members’ “lives have been thrown into utter chaos, and they need an order protecting them from further discrimination and harms right now,” Minter said.
The filing in the lawsuit, by Minter’s group, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), came in federal court in the nation’s capital, and was the first of several similar moves expected in lawsuits filed across the country by civil rights groups and transgender people in the armed services.
Justice Department spokeswoman Nicole Navas Oxman said, “We are examining the claims in the motion and conferring within the Government.”
U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly could issue a ruling or set a hearing next week.
Also Thursday, the groups added two named individuals and one unnamed “John Doe” to five original plaintiffs identified by pseudonyms as “Jane Does.” They include Regan Kibby, a Naval Academy midshipman, and Dylan Kohere, an ROTC student.
Their participation at the academy and in ROTC is contingent on their eligibility to enlist in the military, now in doubt, they alleged. Each said their initial decision to declare their transgender status was based on the Obama administration’s decision to allow their service in 2016.
“A big part of the reason I was comfortable coming out as transgender in the ROTC was the announcement in the summer of 2016 that transgender people would be able to serve openly in the military,” Kohere said in an affidavit. “I was so excited that I would be able to achieve my goal of serving while remaining true to who I am.”
Kibby said he came out as transgender during his first year, when the Obama announcement was made. Kibby competed successfully for a congressional nomination and admission to the academy inspired by his Navy veteran father and upbringing in San Diego, home to the Pacific fleet. Kibby’s enrollment was threatened in July, when Trump caught many by surprise with tweets to countermand his predecessor’s action.
“After a lifetime of feeling a sense of duty and preparing to serve, reading Trump’s tweets was painful, and I saw my future crumbling,” Kibby said.
Trump on July 26 tweeted, “After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.”
He elaborated, “Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”
The ban would reverse an Obama decision to allow transgender people to serve openly. The armed forces were set to begin enlisting transgender people July 1, but Mattis suspended that move, while announcing Tuesday that current enlistees will continue to be allowed to serve pending the results of a study and recommendations by a panel of experts.
“Our focus must always be on what is best for the military’s combat effectiveness leading to victory on the battlefield,” Mattis said. “To that end, I will establish a panel of experts serving within the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security to provide advice and recommendations on the implementation of the president’s direction.”
Before the Obama policy change, the Pentagon had concluded that there was no basis for the military to exclude transgender people, as long as they could meet the same fitness requirements as other service members. The review examined medical care, military readiness and other factors.
There is no official tally of transgender military members, and estimates vary widely. One recent study by the Rand Corp. put the number on active duty at about 2,500, while another from the Williams Institute at UCLA Law School estimated that there were 15,500 on active duty, in the National Guard and in the reserves.
In affidavits filed Thursday, Obama Pentagon appointees Ray Mabus Jr., Navy secretary from 2009 to 2017; Eric Fanning, who held a series of posts from 2013 to 2017 ending as Army secretary; and Deborah Lee James, Air Force secretary from 2013 to 2017; and Brad Carson, acting undersecretary for personnel and readiness, criticized the Trump proposal.
The officials said the change would cause “unexpected losses” of skilled personnel in operational units that will be difficult to fill, while reducing the size of the military’s recruiting pool.
“President Trump’s stated rationales for reversing the policy and banning military service by transgender people make no sense,” said Mabus, who oversaw the Navy and Marines through the surge in Afghanistan. “They have no basis in fact and are refuted by the comprehensive analysis of relevant data and information.”
James said the move “would harm both the military and the broader public interest,” lower morale, erode trust in military commanders, and create a damaging distraction.