Courts force US military to accept transgender recruits, but legal battle to continue

12 December 2017

Transgender persons will be allowed to enlist in the US military beginning 1 January, the Pentagon said on Monday, as a ban ordered by President Donald Trump suffered more legal setbacks.

Trump had demanded earlier this year that transgender individuals be barred from the military. But three federal courts have ruled against the ban, including one on Monday in Washington State.

In Monday's ruling, a federal judge denied the Trump administration's request to delay an order requiring the military to begin accepting transgender recruits, saying the argument for more time seemed based on ''vague claims''.

''The Court is not persuaded that Defendants will be irreparably injured by'' meeting the New Year's Day deadline, US District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly wrote.

The ruling from Kollar-Kotelly of the District of Columbia follows her earlier opinion blocking the president's ban on military recruitment of transgender men and women that possibly would have forced the dismissal of current service members starting in March.

In October, she had barred the Trump administration from proceeding with its plan to exclude transgender people from military service. Part of the effect of the ruling was that the military would be required to allow transgender people to enlist beginning 1 January.

A second federal judge in Baltimore also issued a preliminary injunction in November that goes further, preventing the administration from denying funding for sex-reassignment surgeries once the order takes effect.

The government had asked Kollar-Kotelly to put the 1 January date on hold while they appealed her full ruling but she declined on Monday, reaffirming the 1 January start date. The Department of Justice is now asking a federal appeals court to intervene and put the 1 January requirement on hold.

Justice Department spokeswoman Lauren Ehrsam said in a statement that ''we disagree with the Court's ruling and are seeking to stay the Defense Department's obligations under that ruling as we evaluate next steps.''

Potential transgender recruits will have to overcome a lengthy and strict set of physical, medical and mental conditions that could make it difficult for them to join the armed services.

Maj David Eastburn, a Pentagon spokesman, said the enlistment of transgender recruits will begin next month and proceed amid legal battles. The Defence Department also is doing a review, which is expected to carry into 2018.

Eastburn told The Associated Press on Monday that the new guidelines mean the Pentagon can disqualify potential recruits with gender dysphoria, a history of medical treatments associated with gender transition and those who underwent reconstruction. But such recruits are allowed in if a medical provider certifies they've been clinically stable in their preferred sex for 18 months and are free of significant distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas.

Transgender individuals receiving hormone therapy must be stable on their medication for 18 months.

The requirements make it challenging for a transgender recruit to pass. But they mirror concerns President Barack Obama's administration laid out when the Pentagon initially lifted its ban on transgender service last year.

''Due to the complexity of this new medical standard, trained medical officers will perform a medical pre-screen of transgender applicants for military service who otherwise meet all applicable applicant standards,'' Eastburn said.

The Pentagon move Monday signals the growing sense within the government that authorities are likely to lose the legal fight.

In July, President Trump surprised military leaders and members of Congress when he announced the proposal in a series of tweets. Trump's order reversed an Obama-era policy allowing transgender people to serve openly and receive funding for sex-reassignment surgery.

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