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Judge Rules Transgender Recruits Must Be Allowed To Join US Military

The ruling is a clarification and extension of a previous injunction blocking Trump's trans military ban from going into effect.

Marilyn Drew Necci | November 28, 2017

A federal judge has ruled that the US military must go forward with previous plans to begin accepting transgender recruits on January 1, 2018, effectively returning the policy on transgender military service to the status quo that existed under President Obama.

After a summer and early fall of continual setbacks, October 22 was a good day for transgender people and their allies. On that day, US District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of the District of Columbia issued a preliminary injunction blocking President Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the US military, originally announced over Twitter on July 26, from going into effect.

At the time, the block was only understood to prevent the dismissal of currently-serving transgender troops, on the basis that the six active-duty troops currently suing the administration to have the ban declared unconstitutional were likely to win. However, yesterday Judge Kollar-Kotelly issued a clarification stating “that the effect of its order was to revert to the status quo,” bringing policy on transgender troops back to the guidance that had originally been issued by the Obama administration in 2016.

At the time, the policy had been changed to allow for acceptance of trans recruits into the military starting July 1, 2017. Trump Defense Secretary James Mattis had already pushed that date back to January 1, 2018 before Trump’s fateful tweets. In her clarification issued yesterday, Judge Kollar-Kotelly made clear that this date must stay in place, stating, “Those [previous] policies allowed for the accession of transgender individuals into the military beginning on January 1, 2018. Any action by any of the defendants that changes this status quo is preliminarily enjoined.”

This clarification comes less than a week after US District Court Judge Marvin J. Garbis of Maryland issued another ruling requiring that the military continue to fund transgender-related medical care, including genital reconstructive surgeries, aka “sex-reassignment surgeries” (we need to talk about this phrase, but… another time). Kollar-Kotelly’s October 22 ruling had not ruled on this particular aspect of the ban, as she found that the six plaintiffs in that case were not likely to be affected by that aspect of the ban.

However, in his ruling, Garbis declared that the plaintiffs challenging the ban in the case under his purview had “demonstrated that they are already suffering harmful consequences such as the cancellation and postponements of surgeries, the stigma of being set apart as inherently unfit, facing the prospect of discharge and inability to commission as an officer, the inability to move forward with long-term medical plans, and the threat to their prospects of obtaining long-term assignments.”

Now, Kollar-Kotelly’s clarification removes the last aspect of the Guidance Policy For Open Transgender Service Phase Out, issued by Trump’s Defense Department on August 25, that was still in effect. And while all of the injunctions issued thus far are only in place pending the resolution of particular lawsuits, it seems likely that these cases will have to proceed all the way to the Supreme Court for the Trump administration to have a chance of prevailing. Which will, of course, take no small amount of time, meaning that by the time they wend their way there, it may be that transgender recruits have been serving in the military with no issue for several years. And of course, that makes a Supreme Court ruling in Trump’s favor far less likely.

At this point, it seems time will tell. But for now, there’s no more trans military ban until further notice. And that’s a beautiful thing.

Photo via New Civil Rights Movement.