Two LGBTQ advocacy groups have filed a lawsuit over President Donald Trump’s proposed ban of trans troops, challenging his tweets last month that declared transgender people would not be allowed to serve in the military “in any capacity.”
The suit, filed on behalf of five unnamed openly transgender members of the military, claims that Trump’s announcement discriminates against the troops “based on their sex and transgender status,” violating due process and equal protection under the Fifth Amendment. It adds that the “directive to exclude transgender people from military service is arbitrary and capricious and lacks any rational basis.”
The day after Trump tweeted the announcement, which surprised the Department of Defense and caused alarm among trans service members, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford said there had been no official change to military policy on transgender troops, and there would be no change without an official order.
But the suit filed in U.S. District Court in Washington says the White House effectively “outlined a plan to end the active service of transgender servicemembers to be transmitted to the Department of Defense for implementation.”
In June 2016, then-Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced that transgender troops would be able to serve openly. Since that time, at least 250 people have come out as transgender and begun the transition process, according to the Associated Press.
About 15,000 transgender people are currently serving in the military, according to an estimate from The Williams Institute at UCLA.
The lawsuit, from the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) and several others, asks the court to declare that Trump’s announcement was unconstitutional and issue injunctions that would prevent the exclusion of trans service members from the military.
Shannon Minter, legal director of the NCLR, said though a policy banning transgender troops has not been finalized, “we’re filing suit now because the harms are happening now,” he said.
“These are individuals who have to make immediate choices about training, about re-enlistment, about health care, about the future of their families, and they have been told by the President of the United States that a ban on their future service is in the process of being implemented,” Miller added. “No one should be treated this way, much less people who have dedicated their lives to serving their country.”
White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders told Dominic Holden of BuzzFeed News on Wednesday that “we will work with the Department of Defense to lawfully implement the policy.” Army Lt. Col. Paul Haverstick, a Pentagon spokesperson, told the NewsHour that the department was aware of the lawsuit but he could not comment on pending litigation.
Katherine Franke, director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law at Columbia Law School, said that even in the absence of new military policy, Trump’s tweets signified a shift from the executive branch.
“I think it is a fair argument even at this point to say that the policy of the U.S. government has changed, and the lawsuit seeks a declaration from the federal court that this change is unconstitutional,” she wrote in an email.
PBS NewsHour’s P.J. Tobia talks to Lt. Cmdr. Brynn Tannehill, a transgender woman who served as a Navy pilot for nearly a decade and is now director of advocacy for SPARTA, an LGBT military organization.
The suit is one of several potential upcoming legal actions in response to Trump’s announcement. This week, LGBTQ legal group Lambda Legal published a letter announcing they were preparing to sue. And the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to White House counsel Tuesday announcing they would sue over a formal policy change.
Navy Lt. Cdr. Blake Dremann, president of SPARTA, an organization for LGBTQ service members, said in a statement that “as transgender service members, we are and have always been soldiers, sailor, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen first. We serve our country honorably, in good faith. We will continue to do so until we are told it is time to go.”
You can read the full complaint below.