7 actively serving members of the military file lawsuits against Trump’s transgender ban

Livelihoods are very much on the line.

Lambda Legal plaintiffs Ryan Karnoski, Staff Sergeant Cathrine “Katie” Schmid and Drew Layne. CREDIT: Lambda Legal
Lambda Legal plaintiffs Ryan Karnoski, Staff Sergeant Cathrine “Katie” Schmid and Drew Layne. CREDIT: Lambda Legal

Two different lawsuits filed Monday morning against the Trump administration’s ban on transgender military service outline the ban’s implications on real individuals’ lives — challenging narratives in the media that the ban is perhaps not as sweeping or as consequential as trans advocates had warned it would be.

The suits from the ACLU and Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN were quickly filed just a few days after President Trump signed the ban into effect Friday evening. Both suits challenge the ban for violating plaintiffs’ equal protection and substantive due process under the law, and the Lambda/OutServe suit also argues that the ban violates their free speech by punishing them for being open about expressing their identities.

One immediate consequence is that many of the plaintiffs will likely lose their jobs.

Trump’s memo states that as of March 23, 2018, the military will resume its prior policy of barring transgender people from serving, reinstating a restriction that was lifted one year ago.

All six of the ACLU plaintiffs, as well as one of the Lambda Legal/Outserve-SLDN plaintiffs, are actively serving members of the military who openly disclosed that they are transgender after the ban on trans service was lifted, presuming it was safe to reveal their identities. Now, their careers may come to an abrupt end.

The memo also maintains the military’s ban on accessions, which impacts both those seeking to join the armed services as well as those seeking to move from enlisted to officer positions.

Staff Sergeant Cathrine Schmid, one of the Lambda/OutServe plaintiffs, has a pending application to become an Army warrant officer. Though the application was approved at the initial stages, she was informed in July that it was placed on hold and no longer being considered because of the ban.

Two of the others are now prohibited from joining the armed services even though they want to serve their country.

Drew Layne is a 17-year-old about to graduate high school who wants to serve as a specialist in the Air Force. He was open about his transgender identity when he spoke to a recruiter, according to the suit. After Trump first announced the ban in a series of tweets, he says the recruiter stopped communicating with him.

Ryan Karnoski, a mental health clinician, had spoken to recruiters almost a year ago, hoping to “put his social work skills to use for the military,” according to the suit. But because he has also been open about his transgender identity, he will now be denied that opportunity.

The ban also prohibits military spending on any trans-related medical needs after March 23, 2018, which would have significant consequences for the plaintiffs even if they were able to keep their jobs.

All six of the ACLU plaintiffs are undergoing hormone therapy as part of their transition, and several were already making plans to undergo surgery. One of them, an unnamed senior airman, was scheduled to receive medically necessary surgery this summer. After Trump announced the ban, he received an email informing him that his surgery had been put on hold, according to the suit; it remains unclear if the airman’s surgery will proceed as scheduled before next March.

These two lawsuits will likely not be the last legal action against Trump’s ban, particularly as the military begins to enforce it. There are thousands of servicemembers who stand to lose their jobs, and removing them all for the military will be far more expensive than allowing them to serve and covering the costs of their medically necessary care.

Sunday night, several trans servicemembers shared their stories at the MTV Video Music Awards. As Army Captain Jennifer Peace explained, “All we want to do is be treated like everyone else, and be discriminated against based solely on our performance.”

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