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Transgender Military Recruits to be Accepted in New Year Per Court Orders

Soldiers stretch during sunrise before an early morning run at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, June 13, 2016. (Army photo by Sgt. Brandon Hubbard)

ARLINGTON, Va. — The Pentagon said it will be accepting applications from transgender recruits on Jan. 1 per court orders and while the Justice Department is appealing the ruling.

On July 26, Trump tweeted: “After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. 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. Thank you.”

At the end of August, Defense Secretary James Mattis said he would “develop a study and implementation plan, which will contain the steps that will promote military readiness, lethality, and unit cohesion, with due regard for budgetary constraints and consistent with applicable law.”

Once the panel comes back with its recommendations, Mattis continued, “and following my consultation with the secretary of Homeland Security, I will provide my advice to the president concerning of his policy direction.” In the interim, he added, “current policy with respect to currently serving members will remain in place.”

Several lawsuits were quickly filed, including one in Seattle by Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN on behalf of six current service members and three transgender individuals who wish to join the military.

In October, a U.S. District Court judge in Washington, D.C., granted a preliminary injunction in a similar lawsuit brought by the National Center for Lesbian Rights and GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders. In November, a U.S. District Court judge in Maryland granted a preliminary injunction in a case filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. And on Monday, a federal court in Seattle blocked the government from implementing an anti-transgender plan in the Lambda Legal suit.

The Defense Department said Monday that the policy implemented by former Defense Secretary Ash Carter in 2016 will be valid going into the new year as the Trump administration is “actively pursuing relief from those court orders in order to allow an ongoing policy review scheduled to be completed before the end of March.”

“Under the 2016 Carter policy, a history of gender dysphoria is disqualifying unless, as certified by a licensed medical provider, the applicant has been stable without clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning for 18 months. Additionally, a history of medical treatment associated with gender transition is disqualifying unless, as certified by a licensed medical provider, the applicant has completed all medical treatment associated with the applicant’s gender transition, the applicant has been stable in the preferred gender for 18 months, and if presently receiving cross-sex hormone therapy post-gender transition, the individual has been stable on such hormones for 18 months,” the Pentagon said in a statement.

“Guidance also includes specific details for recruits with a history of sex reassignment or genital reconstruction surgery. Under the updated standards, these procedures would be disqualifying unless, as certified by a licensed medical provider, a period of 18 months has elapsed since the date of the most recent surgery, no functional limitations or complications persist, and no additional surgeries are required.”

Lambda Legal senior attorney Peter Renn said the court agreed “there is no valid reason to deny transgender people the right to serve their country.”

“Before the president’s vicious attack on transgender Americans, transgender service members had been serving openly and proudly in every branch of the U.S. military,” Renn said. “Today’s ruling allows them to continue to do the job of defending our country while the case continues.”

“With yet another court ruling that the president has engaged in unlawful discrimination, the policy’s days are clearly numbered, and its final demise can’t come fast enough for those whose military careers hang in the balance,” he added.

Staff Sgt. Cathrine Schmid, one of the plaintiffs who serves at Joint Base Lewis-McChord and has applied to become an Army warrant officer, said she was “incredibly relieved to know that I can continue to do my job and serve our nation without the additional stress of worrying that I could be discharged as soon as next March.”

“Being transgender has no impact on my ability to perform my duties, and I’m grateful that I will be able to continue to serve the people of the United States as this case moves through the courts,” Schmid added.