WASHINGTON, D.C. — Defense Secretary James Mattis was charged with determining the fate of thousands of currently-serving transgender troops after Donald Trump signed a directive to halt enrollment of transgender troops. Recently, Mattis announced that his decision regarding current troops would be on hold until a government panel completes a study about the impact of allowing transgender people to openly serve their country.
“Once the panel reports its recommendations and following my consultation with the secretary of Homeland Security, I will provide my advice to the president concerning of his policy direction,” Mattis said in a statement. “In the interim, current policy with respect to currently serving members will remain in place.”
That current policy was implemented by former President Barack Obama last year. In a landmark moment for the LGBTQ community, transgender service members were encouraged to be open about their gender identities while serving, without the fear of discharge. The Obama administration’s shift was the result of a years-long research study on the consequences of open service. Advocates say another study would likely been an exercise in foregone conclusion.
“The military spent two years carefully reviewing all of the relevant evidence on this issue and concluded that there is no reason to exclude transgender people from military service,” Legal Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights Shannon Minter told Slate. “The cost of inclusion is literally negligible, and there is no evidence that permitting open service will have any negative impact on military readiness. The notion that there is any good faith ‘study’ being conducted is a blatant pretext for unmitigated, vicious, baseless discrimination.”
Now, that fear of discrimination and even discharge has been renewed for many openly-serving transgender troops. It’s a fact recognized in two lawsuits filed Monday on behalf of transgender service members and military hopefuls.
“President Trump’s actions immediately caused the individual plaintiffs and other transgender service members to fear for their careers, the well-being of their family members and dependents, their health care and, in some cases, their safety,” states an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit filed Monday in Baltimore federal court.
The ACLU is representing five transgender service members in Stone v. Trump, named for one plaintiff: Petty Officer First Class Brock Stone, who has served for 11 years and received several commendations for his service in the U.S. Navy, including a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan; Stone disclosed his gender identity to the military after the Obama-era policy change.
Other plaintiffs include Senior Airman John Doe, Airman First Class Seven Ero George, Petty Officer First Class Teagan Gilbert, and Marine Corps Technical Sergeant Tommie Parker. The plaintiffs are represented by an ACLU team as well as D.C.-based law firm Covington & Burling LLP.
Another lawsuit was also filed Monday in Seattle by Lambda Legal, OutServe-SLDN and Gender Justice League. That suit, Karnoski v. Trump, was filed on behalf of military hopeful Ryan Karnoski, a 22-year-old Seattle social worker; Cathrine Schmid, a 33-year-old Army staff sergeant at Joint Base Lewis-McChord whose promotion is now in limbo; and Drew Layne, a 17-year-old high-school student from Texas who wants to join the Air Force.
“The government will have its hands full defending the notion that this is bad for cohesion,” Yale military law professor Eugene Fidell said, particularly because it reversed a policy based on long-term study. The ACLU agrees, its lawsuit reading:
“Without input from the Department of Defense and Joint Chiefs of Staff, and without any deliberative process, President Trump cast aside the rigorous, evidence-based policy of the Open Service Directive, and replaced it with discredited myths and stereotypes, uninformed speculation, and animus against people who are transgender.”