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Supreme Court Order Leads To More Uncertainty For Transgender Troops And Recruits

Staff Sgt. Logan Ireland and his wife, Laila, speak about transgender issues at the U.S. Air Force Academy in February 2018.
Julius Delos Reyes
U.S. Air Force
Staff Sgt. Logan Ireland and his wife, Laila, speak about transgender issues at the U.S. Air Force Academy in February 2018.

President Trump's restrictions on transgender troops moved a step closer to taking effect, even as several lawsuits challenging the policy remain unresolved.

A Supreme Court order could pave the way for the Pentagon to make it harder for transgender troops to serve openly in the military. President Trump announced in 2017 that transgender people would not be allowed to serve "in any capacity." But the policy has been tied up in legal challenges.

The immediate effect of the Supreme Court's order is unclear. The Court allowed a series of lawsuits to go forward challenging President Trump's directive. But the justices also ruled that until those challenges are decided, the Pentagon could put new restrictions in place.

Under a rule the Department of Defense unveiled last year, people diagnosed with gender dysphoria could no longer join the military, though troops with gender dysphoria already serving could stay in.

"To put it simply, if you have gotten a diagnosis as being transgender, you are grandfathered in," said Logan Ireland, a transgender Air Force staff sergeant and an advocate for the LGBT group SPARTA Pride. "For those who are going through the process of getting a diagnosis, or for those that aspire to serve, that remains to be seen."

Ireland joined the Air Force in 2010 as a woman, then transitioned to being a man two years later. A security forces airman who was deployed to Afghanistan, Ireland hopes to spend the rest of his career in the military and has become a prominent spokesperson for transgender troops.

"We're going to continue to serve honorably and to give everybody the same dignity and respect that we're asking for," he said. "I would hope that this administration would see that we just want to serve like everybody else."

The Trump Administration's 2017 announcement reversed an Obama-era rule that allowed transgender troops to serve. President Trump said the military "cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption" of transgender personnel. However, a Rand Corporation study called those costs "exceedingly small."

Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, labeled the Supreme Court order an attack on transgender people around the nation.

"We're seeing a lot of anger and people being afraid," she said. "From service members, we're seeing a lot of them stiffening their backs and getting up the courage to face what's happening next, and of course they have no idea what's going to happen next."

The Pentagon said in a statement that it will work with the Justice Department to determine its next steps. Noting that the court agrees that the policy is not a ban, the statement said the armed services "treat all transgender persons with respect and dignity."

The Pentagon also stopped short of saying that it will implement the policy right away. It said it's waiting for yet one more court decision on another lawsuit that challenges the new rules.

Shannon Minter is the legal director for National Center for Lesbian Rights.

"I don't know what they're going to do," said Shannon Minter of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. "The signals coming from the Pentagon have been very ambiguous, very mixed. It may be that they're not entirely sure what their plans are right now."

Minter said she hopes the Pentagon will show restraint by keeping things the way they are until all of the challenges to the Trump Administration policy are heard in federal court, which could take months or years.

"They might end up in a situation where they have to once again permit transgender people to serve," Minter said. "So that kind of whip-sawing around and putting troops on the field and commanding officers into a such a potentially chaotic situation, that alone would be very damaging to the military."

To avoid that situation, advocates are lobbying Congress to step in and overturn the Administration's policy. Bipartisan legislation was introduced in the last Congress to do that, but it was never heard. Democratic House leaders promise it will be a top priority this year.

This story was produced by the American Homefront Project, a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans. Funding comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Military and Veterans Reporter - Texas Public Radio
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