Metro Weekly

Federal court orders immediate halt to transgender military ban

Judge Marsha Pechman finds transgender service members likely to succeed in proving Trump's actions unlawful

Three of the plaintiffs in the Karnoski v. Trump lawsuit – Photo: Lambda Legal.

A federal court in Seattle has ordered an immediate halt to the Trump administration’s plan to ban transgender people from serving openly in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Going forward, the White House and Pentagon will be prohibited from moving to exclude out transgender service members and recruits until the case is resolved in the federal courts.

U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman, of the Western District of Washington, ruled in favor of a request from Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN asking for an injunction to stop the Pentagon from taking actions inconsistent with the Obama-era policy, currently in effect, allowing transgender individuals to serve openly.

Pechman ruled that, without the injunction, transgender service members would suffer irreparable harm. She also found that the plaintiffs, including several transgender active duty service members, are likely to succeed in convincing the court that the Trump administration acted unlawfully when it attempted to issue a blanket-ban excluding all transgender individuals, regardless of their qualifications, from serving.

“There is no valid reason to deny transgender people the right to serve their country. The court heard that argument, and agreed,” Peter Renn, a senior attorney with Lambda Legal, said in a statement. “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.”

“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 in a statement. “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,” Perkowski continued. “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.”

The case, known as Karnoski v. Trump, is one of four separate lawsuits being brought against the Trump administration because of the proposed ban. The plaintiffs in the case include nine individual transgender plaintiffs — six active-duty military members and three prospective recruits — as well as the Human Rights Campaign, the Seattle-based Gender Justice League, and the American Military Partners Association.

Pechman’s ruling comes just hours after a judge in Washington, D.C. rejected a Trump administration request to delay the Jan. 1 deadline by which the Armed Services are expected to begin accepting qualified out transgender recruits.

Under the guidelines set forth by the Obama administration under former Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, a transgender person is eligible for enlistment if they have completed any treatment deemed medically necessary for their transition and have been “stable in their identified gender,” as confirmed by their doctor, for at least 18 months.

That same judge previously issued a preliminary injunction in October preventing the Trump administration from moving forward with efforts to implement the ban in the second of the four lawsuits challenging the ban. Another judge, out of Maryland, issued a preliminary injunction in a third lawsuit, and a federal judge in California heard oral arguments in the fourth lawsuit against the ban, but has yet to issue a ruling.

Staff Sgt. Cathrine Schmid, a 33-year-old member of the U.S. Army serving in Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington who is one of the plaintiffs in the Karnoski lawsuit, said in a statement that she was “incredibly relieved” to know she could continue serving without the threat of being forcibly discharged as soon as mid-March, when the Trump ban was expected to take effect.

“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.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com