Lawsuits Pile Up Over Trump’s Transgender Recruitment Ban

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Kevin Daley Supreme Court correspondent
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Two civil rights organizations brought separate lawsuits against President Donald Trump’s order banning transgender people from serving in the military Monday.

The complaints allege a variety of constitutional violations and seek injunctions barring the order’s enforcement while it is adjudicated in the courts.

The first suit was brought by the ACLU in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland. It names Trump, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, as well as the secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force. The plaintiffs in the ACLU action include six active duty servicemen in various stages of gender transition who are currently receiving hormone therapy and related medical care. Several of the plaintiffs have done extended tours in Afghanistan.

“Our lawsuit argues that the ban violates the constitutional guarantees of equal protection and substantive due process by singling out transgender individuals for unequal and discriminatory treatment,” said Chase Strangio, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s LGBT and HIV Project.

“Every justification that the president has offered in support of the ban has already been thoroughly reviewed and debunked by the Department of Defense itself when it adopted a policy permitting military service by transgender individuals last year,” Strangio added.

Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN, public interest law groups that litigate around LGBT issues, also lodged a suit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. Like the ACLU, their complaint names Trump and Mattis, as well as the Department of Defense.

The plaintiffs in the case are Army Staff Sgt. Cathrine Schmid, who currently serves at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Tacoma, Wash., as well as Ryan Karnoski of Seattle, Wash. and Drew Layne of Corpus Christi, Texas, who both aspire to join the military. All three plaintiffs are transgender.

“I love serving my country, which I’ve been doing for more than 12 years,” Schmid said in a statement. “Since the ban on open service by transgender men and women was lifted, I’ve been able to live and serve as my authentic self, which has allowed me to form stronger bonds with my fellow service members.”

Like the ACLU, the Lambda/OutServe complaint also alleges the policy violates the equal protection and substantive due process guarantees. It further claims the order violates the First Amendment as it “impermissibly burden[s] and chill[s] the exercise of the individual plaintiffs’ and of the organizational plaintiffs’ transgender members’ constitutionally protected speech, expression, expressive conduct, and expressive association, based on the content and viewpoint of their speech.”

There is no authoritative figure as to how many transgender persons currently serve in the armed forces. The Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT political lobby, claims there are some 15,000 transgender servicemen. The leading study on the question was conducted by the RAND Corporation, a left-leaning think tank, in 2016. RAND concluded there are between 1,320 and 6,630 active duty trans service members, though they emphasize it is difficult to produce an authoritative figure.

“It is difficult to estimate the number of transgender personnel in the military due to current policies and a lack of empirical data,” the study reads.

“[M]uch existing research relies on self-reported, nonrepresentative survey samples,” it adds.

Trump signed a directive formally banning the recruitment of trans servicemen on Aug. 25. The president claims trans troops disrupt unit cohesion and saddle the military with significant medical costs.

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