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Congressman Denny Heck

Representing the 10th District of Washington

Connelly: Lawsuits in Washington, Maryland take on Trump transgender ban

Aug 29, 2017
In The News

Federal lawsuits in Seattle and Maryland are challenging as unconstitutional President Trump's unilateral ban on accepting transgender Americans as new recruits to the U.S. armed forces.

A suit was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Seattle by Lamda Legal, joined by Outserve-SLDN, representing two transgender persons who want to enlist but would be banned, as well as a transgender woman who has served in the Army for a dozen years.

The second lawsuit was filed in Maryland by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of six serving transgender service members.

The ACLU is represented by the powerful Washington, D.C., law firm of Covington & Burling, once upon a time the legal home of arch Cold War Secretary of State John Foster Dulles.

Raising the issues of due process and equal protection -- plus free speech in the Seattle suit -- the plaintiffs took aim at how Trump is governing. Said the ACLU:

"Without input from the Department of Defense and Joint Chiefs of Staff, and without any deliberative process, President Trump cast aside the rigorous, evidence-based policy of the Open Service Directive, and replaced it with discredited myths and stereotypes, uninformed speculation, and animus against people who are transgender."

Trump initially announced the transgender ban with a tweet, taking leaders of the armed forces by surprise.

He claimed, without offering a scintilla of evidence, that "our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail."

Wrong, said a letter sent to Trump on Tuesday by 143 members of Congress.  Five Washington House members -- Reps. Adam Smith, Rick Larsen, Denny Heck, Derek Kilmer and Pramila Jayapal, all D-Wash. -- signed the letter.  Smith and Larsen are senior members of the House Armed Services Committee.

The lawmakers told Trump:

"There are thousands of active-duty transgender service members.  Contrary to your rhetoric, their service has not caused 'disruption' or 'burdened' the military.  Rather, their sacrifices have made our nation safer and stronger.

"Transgender service members wear the same uniform and complete the same missions as their cisgender peers.  In combat, their lives are in equal peril.  They serve with equal distinction, they are equally deserving of our gratitude and respect."

The lawmakers based their estimate on a RAND Corp. study in 2016, which estimated that there are between 1,320 and 6,630 active-duty transgender troops, out of a total of 1.3 million.

The RAND study pegged the annual cost of gender transition-related medical costs likely not to exceed $8.4 million -- less than one-hundredth of 1 percent of the military's nearly $50 billion health care budget.

A plaintiff in the Lambda lawsuit, Ryan Karnoski, is a mental health technician based locally.  He had a cousin killed in Afghanistan.  In the words of the complaint:  "It (military service) was a personal calling in life for him, and it is something he has long dreamed of being able to fulfill."

A transgender Army officer, Capt. Jennifer Peace, gave a revealing interview Friday to Tacoma radio station KNKX-FM, discussing pressures of the Trump policy.  Peace is an intelligence officer at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. She described her service as anything but disruptive.

"The only thing that trans people are asking for is to be treated like every other service member and to be discriminated against based solely on their performance," Peace told Will James of KNKX.

"Every step of the way, the people I've worked with have always been supportive.  The only negative comments that I've got are from people who have not served in the military," or ex-service members who have said, "Oh, I'm glad I got out of the military before all this."

Donald Trump has never served in the military, although he did go to military school as a teenager.

Trump has given Secretary of Defense James Mattis wide latitude to determine the future of transgender Americans already serving in the armed forces.

Mattis was a scholar-general and is intensely aware of U.S. successes -- and failures -- in Iraq and Afghanistan.  One failure: When gays and lesbians were separated from the military, under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, it cost the Army skilled linguists and valued translators.

Still, in Peace's words, "We have people trying to make decisions about their lives. We have people currently deployed to a combat zone saying, 'What does this mean for me? Do I have to sort of abandon my fellow service members, my battle buddies, here?"

Trump can be asked:  Does this serve to "focus" the military on "overwhelming victory?"