California troops sue Trump administration over transgender ban

A pair of transgender California residents who have taken steps to join the armed forces and a group of four military service members are filing a lawsuit on Tuesday against President Donald Trump that aims to block his order banning transgender people from joining the armed forces.

Their lawsuit, backed by the advocacy group Equality California, is the fourth legal challenge to Trump’s Aug. 25 directive prohibiting transgender people from joining the military and banning military healthcare plans from funding sex-reassignment surgeries.

The plaintiffs in the new lawsuit include Aiden Stockman, 20, of Yucca Valley, who has identified as a transgender male since the eighth grade; and Tamasyn Reeves, 29, who first attempted to join the Navy when she was blocked by the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that banned gay people from serving openly in the military.

Stockman had been preparing to enlist in the Air Force and worries that Trump’s order will prevent him from joining the military. He delayed enlisting last year because he wanted to complete a double mastectomy before joining the Air Force, the lawsuit says.

“I’m in physical good shape, nothing will hold me back from excelling in a branch, it bums me out,” he told the TV station KMIR in July after Trump wrote on Twitter that he would ban transgender people from the military.

Trump’s order has not yet taken effect. Defense Secretary James Mattis said last week that the Pentagon plans to study the new policy and develop a plan to carry it out.

“On the one hand, you want as many Americans to serve as possible. On the other hand, the effectiveness and lethality and deployability of the military, those bookends exist,” Mattis told reporters on Thursday.

The Equality California lawsuit joins similar complaints by the ACLU in Marlyand, Lambda Legal in Washington State, as well as the National Center for Lesbian Rights and GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) in Washington, D.C.

It argues that Trump announced his policy reversal without a “rational basis” and that it discriminates against transgender people.

“This action, brought on behalf of transgender individuals, seeks to ensure that all qualified Americans have an equal opportunity to serve in the United States military,” reads the Equality California lawsuit, which is scheduled to be filed in the U.S. District Court for Central California in Los Angeles.

Other plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Army Sgt. Jaquice Tate, a military police officer who served in the armed forces since 2008; an Army specialist; an Air Force staff sergeant who is stationed overseas; and an airman from California who has served in the military since 2012.

“I want everyone to know that money is not the reason for any of this on my end, this is solely to show that many of us are capable of accomplishing the military’s mission and have been doing so for a long time,” said Tate, an Iraq veteran.

A third military recruit is also named in the lawsuit. Nicholas Talbott, 23, is a transgender Ohio man who has taken steps to join the Air National Guard.

Aside from Tate, the enlisted military service members are identified in the complaint as John or Jane Doe because they fear professional retaliation for joining the lawsuit.

The active-duty soldiers and airmen in the lawsuit fear that Trump’s order will bar them from re-enlisting in the military when their contracts end, potentially denying them retirement benefits that troops earn only if they serve in the armed forces for 20 years.

Advocacy and civil rights groups had been preparing to sue the Trump administration over the new policy since July, when the president on Twitter wrote that he would ban transgender people from serving in the military. Trump’s direction reversed a policy the Obama administration adopted in June 2016 allowing transgender people to serve openly.

Trump wrote in his order that he did not believe the Obama administration adequately studied military readiness when it opened the armed forces to transgender people. “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,” Trump wrote on Twitter on July 26.

Three of Obama’s military service secretaries last week wrote declarations supporting the GLAD lawsuit, with former Navy Secretary Ray Mabus writing “President Trump’s stated rationales for reversing the policy and banning military service by transgender people make no sense.”

The Rand Corp. in June 2016 released a study that concluded fewer than 6,630 transgender people serve in the military, that only a fraction of them seek gender-related medical treatments and that their gender-transition health costs would be “relatively low” at less than $8.4 million a year. An August report by retired professors from the Naval Post Graduate School estimated that a policy expelling transgender people from the military would cost up to $960 million because the armed forces would have to recruit and train troops to replace them.

“The cost of providing necessary health care for transgender members of the service was insignificant and obviously there was no impact on deployments or military readiness,” Equality California Executive Director Rick Zbur said, summarizing Obama administration studies on allowing transgender troops to serve openly. A potential surgery is “no different than any other kind of short-term health condition that all members of the service have from time to time.”


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