Five transgender U.S. service members on Wednesday filed a federal lawsuit against President Donald Trump, seeking to block him from barring transgender people from serving in the nation’s armed forces.
Filed in Washington, the lawsuit alleges that Trump’s transgender ban violates their Equal Protection and Due Process rights.
All five plaintiffs — a Coast Guardsmen, three soldiers and an airman with nearly 60 years of combined service — are identified as “Jane Doe” in the lawsuit. They said they want to remain anonymous because they fear retribution. Some have completed tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Lawyers from the National Center for Lesbian Rights and GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders, or GLAD, are assisting the plaintiffs.
“Last year, the Department of Defense announced that transgender people could serve openly,” one of the plaintiffs said in a prepared statement. “I was very relieved and came out as transgender to my commanding officers, who were supportive. My experience has been positive and I am prouder than ever to continue to serve. I am married and have three children, and the military has been my life. But now, I’m worried about my family’s future.”
The Pentagon and White House declined to comment, citing the pending lawsuit.
A Department of Justice spokesman offered this response: “When we are served with the complaint, we will review it and defend the administration’s position.”
As many as 6,630 transgender people are among the 1.3 million troops serving in the military, according to a study by the RAND Corp. It’s unknown how many of them are in Georgia, which is home to thousands of U.S. service members and some major military installations, including Fort Benning, Fort Gordon and Fort Stewart.
Last month, Trump announced on Twitter that the government would not “accept or allow” transgender people to serve in the U.S. military.
“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,” Trump tweeted. “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 Obama administration reversed the ban on transgender people openly serving in the U.S. military last year. The government, however, gave the military until last month to start accepting new transgender troops. But Defense Secretary Jim Mattis announced a six-month delay last month, saying that would give the military time to review whether the change would have an impact on its “readiness and lethality.”
The U.S. military has so far not made any changes in the wake of Trump’s announcement, saying it is awaiting guidance from the White House. It’s unknown what will happen to transgender people currently serving in the armed forces once the ban takes effect.
“There will be no modifications to the current policy until the president’s direction has been received by the secretary of defense and the secretary has issued implementation guidance,” Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last month after Trump’s Twitter announcement. “In the meantime, we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect. As importantly, given the current fight and the challenges we face, we will all remain focused on accomplishing our assigned missions.”
Meanwhile, a new report co-authored by current and retired professors from the Naval Postgraduate School in California says the cost of discharging the military’s transgender troops would total $960 million. Conducted for the Palm Center, the report is based on a higher estimate of 12,800 transgender service members multiplied by the average cost of recruiting and training a replacement for each of them at $75,000.
In a study completed for the Defense Department last year, the RAND Corp. estimated there are between 1,320 and 6,630 transgender people serving in the U.S. armed forces. RAND also estimated medical costs associated with hormone treatments and gender transition-related surgeries could range between $2.4 million and $8.4 million, representing a 0.13-percent increase in government health care spending at the top end.
Gay rights groups are blasting Trump’s abrupt policy change.
“The commander in chief has said that transgender service members — people who have served our nation with honor and distinction — are no longer welcome to serve,” Jennifer Levi, the director of GLAD’s Transgender Rights Project, said in a prepared statement. “This unjustifiable reversal of policy is devastating to these soldiers and harmful to our country. These plaintiffs put their lives on the line every day for all of us. We can’t afford to lose a single one of them.”
At the same time, conservative groups are defending the president.
“The president as commander in chief is within his authority to determine best practices and common sense policy for the military,” said Mathew Staver, the founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, a Christian legal aid group. “This lawsuit is a lawless attempt to rescue an Obama-era agenda item which undermines military readiness and unity cohesion. The military is no place for radical social ideological agendas. The singular purpose of the military is for defense. With the madness of North Korea threatening nuclear war, this is no time to divert attention to promote and fund gender confusion.”
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