5 military members sue Trump over transgender directive

By Allen Cone  |  Aug. 9, 2017 at 2:39 PM
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Aug. 9 (UPI) -- Five unnamed military service members are suing President Donald Trump over his directive posted on Twitter to prohibit transgender individuals from serving in the armed forces.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights and GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders filed the lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of five transgender service members in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Defendants also include top military leaders.

In the suit, they claim that the president's three tweets on July 26 announcing plans to reverse the Department of Defense's policy on transgender service members violates the Equal Protection component of the Due Process Clauses of the Fifth Amendment.

"The categorical exclusion of transgender people from military service lacks a rational basis, is arbitrary, and cannot be justified by sufficient federal interests," the groups argued in their complaint.

The plaintiffs, who have nearly 60 years of combined service, are listed as Jane Doe 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. They are members of the Air Force, the Coast Guard and the Army, and served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

One day after Trump's tweets, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford issued a letter that the policy would not be changed until the White House issued further "guidance." Dunford is among the military brass named in the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs said they have already been harmed.

"Trump's directive to exclude transgender people from military service has created a tidal wave of harms that have already been felt throughout our armed services," Shannon Minter, a transgender legal expert and NCLR's legal director, said in a statement. "Transgender service members have been blindsided by this shift and are scrambling to deal with what it means for their futures and their families. The president's mistreatment of these dedicated troops will serve only to weaken and demoralize our armed forces."

Jennifer Levi, director of GLAD's Transgender Rights Project, said in a statement "these plaintiffs put their lives on the line every day for all of us. We can't afford to lose a single one of them."

In the three tweets, Trump said: "After consultation with my generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you."

In the court filing, the plaintiffs said tweets have become "official guidance, approved by the White House counsel's office, to be communicated to the Department of Defense."

The White House communications office and the Department of Defense didn't immediately respond to an emailed request for comment by Bloomberg.

During the Obama administration, the Defense Department under the Obama administration allowed transgender individuals to openly serve in the military. Current Defense Secretary James Mattis announced in June the implementation of the new policy was being delayed for six months, saying he wanted to work with service chiefs and secretaries to evaluate the prospect of allowing transgender people to enlist. Mattis is named in the lawsuit.

In the suit, they said they informed their commanding officers they are transgender and are undergoing medical treatment related to gender transition.

"Because they identified themselves as transgender in reliance on earlier promise, plaintiffs have lost the stability and certainty they had in their careers and benefits, including post-military and retirement benefits that depend on the length of their service," attorneys for the service members wrote in the court filing. "Plaintiffs have served honorably and successfully in the military since coming out as transgender, and their transgender status has not had any detrimental effect on their ability to serve or to fulfill their duties."

Conservative legislator Rep. Vicky Hartzler had proposed banning the Pentagon from paying for "transition surgeries" as well as hormone therapy but didn't seek a total ban, a Republican congressional aide familiar with the situation said.

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