D.C. court rules in favor of transgender military ban 

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On Jan. 4, a U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued a ruling on the Trump administration’s ban on transgender military service members. Unlike every lower court that has weighed the ban’s validity, the Court of Appeals has upheld it, claiming that the restrictions placed on transgender service members do not constitute a “blanket ban.”

The Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, a lower court, ruled in 2017 that Trump’s initial memorandum and the changes proposed by Secretary of Defense James Mattis both constituted blanket bans, and issued injunctions so that transgender people could continue to serve and enlist. Three total courts have ruled the same in their own cases.

The so-called “Mattis Plan,” Mattis’ amendment to Trump’s initial memorandum, suggests that transgender people may continue to serve as long as they do not experience gender dysphoria, have not undergone any gender reassignment procedures, do not plan to undergo such procedures, and continue to serve as their “biological sex,” meaning submitting themselves to a life of constant misgendering and secrecy.

The Court of Appeals’ five-page ruling says in part: “Although the Mattis Plan continues to bar many transgender persons from joining or serving in the military, the record indicates that the Plan allows some transgender persons barred under the military’s standards prior to the Carter Policy to join and serve in the military."

Aaron Goldstein, a labor and employment partner at the international law firm Dorsey & Whitney who has expertise in cases of sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination, released a statement to the media about today’s ruling.

"Today,” Goldstein says, “the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia overturned the District Court, ruling that the Mattis Plan is not the equivalent of a blanket ban on transgender service because transgender persons who have not undergone gender reassignment are still allowed to serve in their biological sex. As is usually the case in such ruling putting national security ahead of civil rights, the court invoked judicial deference towards the government in matters pertaining to the military.

"The Court of Appeals’ ruling effectively says, as long as you do not live your life as a transgendered person and have no plans to do so, you can serve in the military. While not requiring the kind of secrecy that ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ required of the LGBT community, it still requires transgender service members to make the same choice between their profession and their gender identity. It amounts to a standing order, ‘just don’t act transgendered.’”

However, not all is lost. The Washington Post notes that the decision of the Court of Appeals will not have an immediate effect on transgender service members. While the restrictions stand from a policy perspective, the administration cannot yet impose these restrictions, since three federal judges have issued injunctions.

The Supreme Court will decide whether or not to weigh in on the issue on Jan. 11.


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