The Trump administration’s anti-trans agenda has been back in the news this week after a memo outlining their plans to redefine gender in rigid, exclusionary terms was obtained by The New York Times. But in addition to going against science and the medical community to limit a person’s gender to the genitals they were born with, the administration is also still fighting to keep trans people out of the military.
Shortly after Donald Trump announced last year that he intended to block transgender people from serving in the military, the Washington, D.C. district court issued an injunction, preventing the ban from going into effect, which the administration is currently appealing. Attorneys for the unnamed plaintiffs opposing the military ban filed a brief on Monday, arguing that the administration has no justification for their proposed ban, and urging the courts to uphold the injunction.
“Every court to hear this case so far has seen and understood that people who are fit and qualified to serve in the military should be allowed to do so,” says Jennifer Levi, transgender rights project director for GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, and one of the lead attorneys behind the brief who says she’s optimistic about the outcome of this case.
“It’s hard to understand the military’s end game, because excluding people who are willing to put their lives on the line for this country doesn’t make any sense. It’s not good for the military and it’s not good for this country,” she says. “The military is strengthened by qualified, fit people being able to serve, and the government has offered no justification for banning transgender people from serving.”
The initial efforts to block the military ban were endorsed by 14 states and the District of Columbia, as well as a long list of retired military and national security officers, healthcare organizations and trans-rights advocacy groups.
“We’ve seen throughout history times when groups of people have been excluded from the military, and those exclusions have been removed one after another,” Levi says. “We’ve seen the integration of troops, we’ve seen the removal of barriers for women in combat positions, we’ve seen the reversal of barriers for gay and lesbian people serving, and each time the military has been stronger for it. So this is just another barrier that needs to be removed.”
“At the heart of this case is the men and women who have served, many of them for decades, and many of them in active combat, and all they seek to do is defend their country,” she says. “If you think about the credibility that military leaders have in the political discussion, people value those voices, and everyone who is fit and able to serve should have that opportunity and the experiences that come with it.”
While the ability to serve in the military may not be the number one concern for all transgender Americans, especially in light of the leaked gender memo, Levi explains that allowing the military ban to be enacted would only open the door for more discrimination.
“Being able to serve in the military is about citizenship, it’s about who counts,” she says. “If we see this kind of exclusion stand, I have no doubt that we will see this administration try to create barriers in other contexts, whether it’s employment or healthcare or education. It sends terrible messages not just to the transgender community but to everyone, that some lives have less value than others.”
With the military ban and the gender memo, Levi says, sending those messages seems to be precisely the point.
“We’ve seen this administration consistently try to target marginalized and vulnerable groups, and it seems as if they’ve done it for crass political reasons,” Levi says. “That certainly seems to be behind the president’s original statement about banning transgender people from military service, and it seems to be behind this latest memo that’s been leaked that suggests the federal government wants to take steps to reverse civil rights protections for transgender people.”