Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 13 / 29 March 2018

Trump's trans ban is real, LGBT groups say


Defense Secretary James Mattis
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Despite what some saw as conflicting information from Trump administration officials, the president's recent directive to ban transgender people from serving in the military is real, LGBT advocacy groups said.

LGBT organizations grew alarmed by recent reports suggesting Defense Secretary James Mattis would "freeze" Trump's directive, effectively ending the trans troop ban, and said they are going forward with several lawsuits against it.

In an August 29 statement, Mattis said that he will base his "advice" on the findings of a newly forming panel of "senior civilian [DOD] leadership" that will "thoroughly analyze all pertinent data" regarding the issue.

"As directed, we will develop a study and implementation plan, which will contain the steps that will promote military readiness, lethality, and unit cohesion, with due regard for budgetary constraints and consistent with applicable law," the statement said. "In the interim, current policy with respect to currently serving members will remain in place."

President Donald Trump announced in late July on Twitter that the Department of Defense should ban transgender people in the military. He issued an official memorandum, "Military Service by Transgender Individuals" August 25, directing the DOD to do so. But the memo says the ban, which is due to begin March 23, would stay in place "until such time as a sufficient basis exists upon which to conclude that terminating that policy and practice" would not have negative effects. And in an impromptu press gaggle August 31, Mattis said the president is "leaving it up to me" to determine the military's policy of transgender service members.

Mattis was responding to a question about whether "you agree with the president" on banning transgender people.

"The president gave me the time to look at this," replied Mattis. "And obviously he wanted me to do something, or he would have said, 'I want something done tomorrow.' He's told me what he wants, in theory – in broad terms – and now he's leaving it up to me."

Mattis' comment came just two days after he issued "Statement by Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis on Military Service by Transgender Individuals" that led some to believe he might not agree with Trump's directive. The statement asserts the DOD "will carry out the president's policy direction," but it also states Mattis will provide "my advice to the president concerning implementation of his policy direction."

Mattis' comments were reported in several outlets as the trans ban being "frozen."

LGBT legal groups said that was not the case.

Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said the language of the Trump memo and the Mattis statement amount to "a patently bogus strategy to make it appear that there is going to be some new 'study' that will legitimize" Trump's proposed ban.

"The August 25 memorandum is perfectly clear: President Trump has ordered the military to ban transgender people from serving," said Minter. "That ban will go into effect in about six months, on March 23."

Minter dismissed the idea that the panel Mattis is assembling is to study the issue. Noting that the DOD had already spent two years reviewing the issue, Minter said Mattis' panel is "a transparent effort to provide a retroactive fig leaf for the president's bigotry."

"The notion that there is any good faith 'study' being conducted," said Minter, "is a blatant pretext for unmitigated, vicious, baseless discrimination."

Meanwhile, NCLR and GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders on August 31 filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to stop Trump's proposed ban until the group's lawsuit against it can be resolved in the federal courts.

And two more legal organizations have filed their own lawsuits against the ban. While the NCLR-GLAD lawsuit (Doe v. Trump) is filed in the U.S. District Court for D.C., Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund and Outserve-SLDN have filed a challenge (Karnoski v. Trump) in the U.S. District Court for Western Seattle. And that same day, the American Civil Liberties Union filed its challenge (Stone v. Trump) in U.S. District Court for Maryland.

On Tuesday, Equality California, the state's LGBT lobbying and advocacy group, announced it filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California seeking to block Trump's trans ban. EQCA is participating in the lawsuit as an organizational plaintiff, whose more than 500,000 members in the state include trans people affected by the ban.

"Secretary Mattis' comments last week changed nothing, as his comments were entirely consistent with what the August 25 directive already required: the ban will go into place in March 2018; transgender people who wish to enlist are, at this very moment, banned from doing so; and, with extremely limited exception, transgender service members are currently and forever prohibited from receiving essential medical care," EQCA said in a news release. "Any other understanding of the defense secretary's remarks is 'fake news.'"

Law firm Latham and Watkins LLP is representing EQCA pro bono, along with several named and unnamed transgender plaintiffs directly affected by the ban, according to a news release.


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