Those who are fighting Donald Trump’s transgender military ban are in a cautiously optimistic mood today, as openly trans Americans became able to enlist.
“I spoke with my recruiter today and am completing paperwork needed to enlist,” Nicolas Talbott, a 24-year-old trans man who is a plaintiff in the Stockman v. Trump suit against the ban, told The Advocate via email. “I’ve been working with this particular recruiter for the past year, and we are really excited to move forward with this process. This is a historic day for the military and for transgender Americans.”
Talbott, who lives in Ohio, is enlisting in the Air National Guard. The National Center for Lesbian Rights, GLBTQ Advocates and Defenders, and private attorneys are representing Talbott and other plaintiffs in the case.
Enrollment of new trans recruits could begin today because of orders by federal judges in various lawsuits challenging the ban, which Trump announced via Twitter in July. Trial court judges have issued preliminary injunctions, temporarily blocking the ban, in all four of the lawsuits brought against it, and two appeals courts in December declined the Trump administration’s requests to delay new enlistments past Monday. The administration announced Friday that it would not appeal the injunction further.
When President Barack Obama’s administration lifted the ban in 2016, transgender people already in the military could begin serving openly, but enlistment of new trans recruits was delayed until July 1, 2017 — and before reinstating the ban, the Trump administration extended it further, saying enlistments could not begin until January 1, 2018. After the ban was announced, enlistments would have been delayed indefinitely if not for the court actions.
The injunctions mean the ban will not be in effect as the various lawsuits go through the discovery process, “which means the government must substantiate Trump’s claim that trans service members pose an undue burden on the military.” NBC News notes. Joshua Block, the American Civil Liberties Union lawyer handling one of the suits, told the network the government is unlikely to succeed, as the Obama administration did a study before it lifted the ban, concluding that there would not be an undue burden.
“The military is allegedly supposed to give its recommendations to President Trump in February,” Block said. “It’s entirely possible that they would just announce in February that they recommended that President Trump rescind the ban and he accept the recommendation, but that's all in their hands.”
Matt Thorn, president and CEO of OutServe-SLDN, which brought one of the other suits in partnership with Lambda Legal, told NBC he is “cautiously optimistic” about the outcome of the litigation in 2018. “We have proven we can go to court and we can win,” he said, adding that the longer trans troops serve openly, “the harder it is to put that genie back in the bottle. … This country has now seen trans individuals serving the armed forces.”