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Opponents of President Trump’s transgender military ban have demanded that U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman declare it unconstitutional.
The case, Karnoski v. Trump, was brought on behalf of six active-duty transgender service members, three transgender recruits, the Human Rights Campaign, the Gender Justice League, and the American Military Partners Association.
In oral arguments today, lawyers with Lambda Legal, OutServe-SLDN and from the Washington State Attorney General’s office urged Pechman to offer a final ruling and issue a permanent injunction that would block the ban from taking effect.
Trump initially floated the idea of a broad-based ban that would have categorically excluded all transgender individuals, regardless of ability or individual circumstance, from serving in the Armed Forces. Last week, after months of litigation that dealt the Trump administration defeats as courts issued temporary injunctions to block the policy, the Pentagon announced a revised ban.
Under the new ban, transgender individuals would still be barred from serving, but those who have been stable in their biological sex for 36 months, have not been diagnosed with gender dysphoria, or those active-duty members who have not yet undergone hormone treatments or gender confirmation surgery would be exempt. The Pentagon and White House have claimed such a prohibition is essential to ensuring that transgender troops will be able to deploy at a moment’s notice.
“The continued uncertainty regarding the status of the tweeted ban, coupled with Friday’s late night release of an insulting and almost incomprehensible implementation plan, is not just harming currently serving transgender troops and transgender people wishing to enlist, but is damaging military readiness and troop morale,” Natalie Nardecchia, a senior attorney with Lambda Legal, said in a statement after concluding oral arguments.
“Six courts at multiple levels have swatted down this ill-conceived and discriminatory ban, and the so-called implementation ‘plan’ changed nothing: it’s time to kick it to the curb for good.”
While the lawyers for the plaintiffs in the Karnoski case are the first to argue for a permanent injunction blocking the Pentagon from carrying out the ban, they will undoubtedly not be the last. The three other challenges to the ban, in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and California, are expected to employ similar arguments in the coming months.
“The federal government has not given any legal justification for keeping able-bodied transgender individuals from serving in the military, for one simple reason: there isn’t one,” Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement. “Barring transgender individuals from serving based on anything other than their ability and conduct is wrong.”
News outlets have previously reported that the Pentagon’s latest version of the ban was highly influenced by a team of social conservatives, including Vice President Mike Pence and Tony Perkins, of the anti-LGBTQ Family Research Council, who worked behind the scenes to lay out arguments for why a ban on transgender individuals is necessary. That revelation was immediately decried by LGBTQ organizations, who insisted that the revised ban was simply an effort to reach a predetermined conclusion, rather than one based on past studies of the effect of allowing transgender soldiers to serve openly and on the science behind gender dysphoria.
“Last week, under the cover of darkness and in an act of cowardice, Donald Trump and Mike Pence doubled down on their dangerous and discriminatory ban on transgender troops with an implementation plan written by anti-trans zealots,” Chris Sgro, the communications director for the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement. “As today’s hearing demonstrated, this ban is rooted in nothing more than the petty prejudice of this president, vice president and the anti-LGBTQ extremists propping up their administration.”
Yet even some transgender military veterans have argued that gender dysphoria can be debilitating and can hamper military readiness. As such, they say, the government is being responsible by excluding those who suffer from severe forms of gender dysphoria, thereby not wasting time, money, and effort to train and provide medical care for those determined to pursue their transition during their tours of duty.
Still, others, including some of the Karnoski plaintiffs, say that even the revised policy is overly broad and discriminatory.
“The president’s tweets utterly devastated me. I felt as if the floor had fallen away beneath my feet,” Conner Callahan, a 29-year-old public safety officer from North Carolina College who wants to enlist in the military. “I know about sacrifice: I’ve sacrificed a lot to live as my authentic self and I am willing to sacrifice even more for my country. But because of this ruling, I’ve been forced to consider a future where I am unable to serve in the military. We need a definitive ruling from the court to allow me to pursue the career I am fully fit and qualified to pursue.”
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