Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN to Ninth Circuit: Don’t Breathe Life into Discriminatory Transgender Military Ban

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October 10, 2018
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Lambda Legal client Army Staff Sergeant Cathrine Schmid speaking at a press event after today's hearing.

Lawyers in the lawsuit filed by Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN challenging the Trump Administration’s plan to ban transgender people from serving openly in the U.S. Armed Services today urged the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to maintain the preliminary injunction blocking implementation of the discriminatory ban. Lawyers also asked the Ninth Circuit to reject efforts by the Trump Administration to conceal military documents regarding the ban and to refuse to produce even a log of documents withheld by the White House.

“Despite a string of court rulings blocking President Trump from imposing his discriminatory whims on the military, the government persists in pursuing every avenue to allow it to impose rank discrimination barring courageous and qualified transgender people from serving our country,” Lambda Legal Counsel Peter Renn said. “Courts across the country have swatted down implementation of this dangerous and discriminatory ban: There is no defensible reason to resurrect it now.”

Today’s argument before the Ninth Circuit follows four U.S. district court rulings and two federal appellate court rulings that issued or preserved preliminary injunctions against enforcement of the ban. Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN are also seeking access to documents regarding the ban and the plan to implement it ordered by President Trump.

"Today, like every day since those tweets of more than a year ago, I continue to do my duty, to serve my country with my fellow soldiers,” said U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Cathrine “Katie” Schmid. “These seemingly endless efforts to separate me from service will not deter me, and serve only to strengthen my resolve. I’m confident the Ninth Circuit, like every other court to rule, will see through this charade for what it is: a discriminatory policy that only hurts our military's morale, cohesion, and readiness, and serves no other purpose.”

Today’s arguments were the latest stage in the lawsuit brought by Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN, and joined by the state of Washington, challenging the ban.

Last December, the federal district court in Seattle issued an injunction barring the ban from being enforced during the litigation and requiring the military to honor the existing policy it adopted in 2016, under which transgender service members were allowed to serve openly, and transgender Americans seeking to join the military had a path forward for doing so. Because of the injunction, transgender people were able to enlist starting January 1.

"Our transgender siblings-in-arms have selflessly dedicated their lives to the country they love and they have proven to be vital in accomplishing the mission," said Andy Blevins, incoming Executive Director of OutServe-SLDN. "The Trump-Pence administration's continued attempts to undermine our transgender siblings' right to serve is disgraceful. Blatant discriminatory actions at the hands of our nation's largest employer of the LGBTQ community cannot be allowed to continue."

In the lawsuit, Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN represent nine individual plaintiffs and three organizational plaintiffs -- the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Seattle-based Gender Justice League, and the American Military Partner Association (AMPA) – who joined the lawsuit on behalf of their transgender members harmed by the ban.

Last October, a U.S. District Court judge in Washington, D.C., granted a preliminary injunction in a similar lawsuit challenging the transgender military service ban filed by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD). Then, 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, also this past December, a U.S. District Court judge in California granted a preliminary injunction in a case filed by Equality California, also joined by NCLR and GLAD. The D.C. and Fourth Circuit Courts of Appeals denied the Trump Administration’s efforts to secure stays on open enlistment.  The district courts in Washington, D.C. and California have also rejected efforts by the Trump Administration to dissolve the injunctions this year.