Trump's Military Ban Blocked, But Future Remains Uncertain for Trans Troops

On Monday October 30th, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ruled in support of trans service members.

by Diana Tourjée
Oct 30 2017, 9:20pm

Photo by Sean Locke via Stocksy

A federal district court judge issued an injunction Monday which effectively stops President Donald Trump's attempt to ban transgender Americans from the United States military. The ruling comes as the result of a lawsuit, Doe v. Trump, brought in August by GLAD and NCLR on behalf of transgender service members challenging the President's order.

On July 26, Donald Trump tweeted a series of statements attacking transgender Americans in the military and called for their removal, upending the Obama-era decision to allow transgender service members to serve openly. While his apparent reasons behind the directive were discredited—for instance, he suggested that trans people pose a financial burden to the military, but in reality the medical care of trans service members represents less than one percent of defense spending—on August 25 Trump nonetheless issued a Presidential Memorandum calling for the enforcement of his proposed ban.

The impact of such a ban would have been devastating. Thousands of transgender service members risked losing their pensions, health care, income, and the ability to provide for their families. For months, they've been trapped in a horrible limbo, unsure of whether they'll be allowed to continue serving their country.

"My spouse and I were immediately concerned that if I was removed from the military, we would not be able to provide health care for our children," one trans soldier, who has served in the National Guard for eight years, told Broadly in August, "or that we would have to pay two or three times as much to do so."

In Monday's ruling, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly wrote of the plaintiffs, "Many have years of experience in the military. Some have decades.… All fear that the directives of the Presidential Memorandum will have devastating impacts on their careers and their families."

Kollar-Kotelly decided that the plaintiffs were highly likely to win their case on the basis of their argument that such a ban would violate their Fifth Amendment. She criticized Trump for attempting to initiate such a policy change via Twitter, and ruled that the ban was too "expansive," affecting every transgender service member, and arguing that there are no facts to support the President's claims that trans people cost the military too much money or are somehow disruptive.

Read More: Trans Surgical Care in Military Is on Hold, Leaked Emails Say

However, the plaintiffs did not succeed on all measures. While the court did issue a preliminary injunction against the enforcement of Trump's ban, it also held that it lacks jurisdiction to rule on the memorandum's blocking of transgender surgical medical treatment by the US Military, as "no Plaintiff has established a likelihood of being impacted by that prohibition." For transgender people, gender-affirming surgeries are often typical aspects of their overall health care.

On August 18, Broadly published leaked military medical documents showing that the Military Medical Command was ordering all military medical providers to halt providing surgical care to trans service members. Gender transition related surgeries are regarded as medically necessary for some transgender people. It can be hazardous to deny any trans person access to a surgery that has been deemed medically necessary by their medical provider. For those in the military, it may be even more difficult to navigate the bureaucratic gateways to transition while fundamental steps in your transition are being formally withheld.

Monday's news is a hopeful sign in a long fight for that equality. It must be reassuring to transgender people serving today—but but the future of their equal participation in the US military remains uncertain. Trans service members are under a political microscope, and have been directly targeted by their own commander-in-chief. They may face harassment from units that feel emboldened by the administration's hostile perspective on their service.

It is possible that the Trump administration could continue effort to try and oust them, or limit their capacity to serve. Denying surgical care is an example of that—by refusing someone the care they require, the military could force trans soldiers out simply because the individual's health worsens. In these turbulent political waters, it remains necessary for the public to scrutinize the treatment of transgender service members by US military.