ACLU of Maryland sues Trump administration over transgender military service ban

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland filed a federal lawsuit against President Donald J. Trump on Monday in an effort to halt his administration’s ban on transgender individuals serving in the military.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of six transgender service members — including one from Anne Arundel County — is the latest to allege that the prohibition amounts to a violation of the troops’ constitutional rights to equal treatment and due process.

The lawsuit comes days after the White House formally ordered the ban with a memo requiring Secretary of Defense James Mattis to develop a plan to implement the policy within six months.

Trump caught senior military leaders off guard last month with his Twitter announcement that transgender individuals would no longer be allowed to serve “in any capacity.” Trump said he made the decision, in consultation with unnamed military leaders, to avoid what he described as the "tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender" individuals incur.

The decision reversed an Obama administration policy approved last year that allowed transgender people to serve openly.

“Thousands of Americans already serving their country … have been told that they are no longer welcome,” the plaintiffs said in the ACLU lawsuit. “Transgender service members suddenly face the reality that, despite their years of commitment and training, their careers will prematurely end.”

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, is one of a series brought since Trump’s social media posts on the issue. Another federal lawsuit was filed Monday in Seattle by Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN on behalf of a transgender Army soldier and two transgender men who want to enlist.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights and GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, or GLAD, filed a federal lawsuit earlier this month in the District of Columbia.

A White House spokesman declined to comment. A spokesman at the Department of Defense said the Pentagon was aware of the lawsuit and referred questions to the Department of Justice. The Department of Justice did not respond to multiple emails and phone calls seeking comment.

Maryland Democrats praised the litigation Monday.

Rep. Anthony G. Brown, a member of the House Armed Services Committee and a retired Army colonel, said people should have the right and responsibility to to take part in defending the nation, regardless of their gender identification.

“I reject any action that diminishes their patriotism, courage and sacrifice,” the Prince George’s County Democrat said in a statement. “We must push back against this hateful and bigoted agenda and pursue justice for our service members — both in the courts and in Congress.”

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings said that every American willing and able to defend the country should be allowed to do so.

"Instead of letting the best interest of our nation’s military guide his decision, President Trump is implementing a blatantly discriminatory and unconstitutional policy to score political points," the Baltimore Democrat said in a statement.

Rep. Andy Harris, a Baltimore County Republican and a retired Navy commander, declined through a spokeswoman to comment.

ACLU officials said that while the ban has technically not yet gone into effect, its impact is already being felt in the ranks.

“We’ve heard from a number of enlisted people, and people who were planning to enlist,“ said Chase Strangio, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s national office who specializes in the treatment of transgender people.”The impact is being felt by thousands.”

Strangio said Trump’s policy has been rejected by military analysts, and would cost more to implement than simply providing medical care to transgender service members. He said experts have estimated medical costs for transgender service members at about $8 million out of the billions spent on all personnel. He said the ban would cost $960 million.

The lawsuit cites a 2014 study by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, which estimated that 8,800 active members of the military are transgender, and a 2016 report by the RAND Corp. commissioned by the Department of Defense, which found health care costs for transgender service members represent “an exceedingly small proportion” of Pentagon health care expenditures.

RAND analysts noted that the surgical procedures completed for gender transition are already used by the military for patients who have had cancer, been in car accidents, or been wounded in combat.

RAND estimated the number of transgender individuals currently serving in the military at between 1,320 and 6,630, out of 1.3 million total service members.

Plaintiffs in the suit include five named transgender service members, and one unnamed service member. Several of the plaintiffs have served extensive careers in the miliary, deployed to Afghanistan and been decorated.

One of them, Navy Petty Officer Brock Stone, 34, works at Fort Meade and lives in Anne Arundel County, according to the lawsuit.

Stone has served in the Navy for 11 years, including a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan, during which he earned an achievement medal and “a flag letter of commendation and multiple recommendations for early promotion,” the plaintiffs said.

“Despite this lengthy service and deployment, and the fact that he has received extensive and costly training in his field, he faces the prospect that he will be forced out of the U.S. Navy,” the plaintiffs said.

Stone is undergoing hormone therapy as part of his gender transition at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda. The plaintiffs said Stone planned and expected that his treatment would include surgery in 2018.

Stone could not be reached for comment.

“Of, course it’s heartbreaking to talk to these individuals who are now being rejected and cast aside,” Strangio said.

jkanderson@baltsun.com

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