Navy officer sues Pentagon over transgender military ban

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A transgender Navy officer is suing the Pentagon over its ban on most transgender military service, arguing she faces involuntary discharge despite a successful record of service.

Four other lawsuits have previously been filed against the policy, but the latest one, filed by two advocacy groups on behalf of the officer identified only as Jane Doe, is the first since the ban took effect last year.

“As an experienced officer, all she seeks is the ability to continue serving her country on the same terms as others,” Jennifer Levi, transgender rights project director at GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), said in a news release Wednesday. “The Navy has invested nearly a decade in her training, and she is committed to serving for years to come. It destabilizes and debases our military to discharge Doe and other highly qualified people under a politically motivated policy that has no basis in anything other than bias.”

The Pentagon’s current transgender policy went into effect in April after courts lifted the last of the injunctions that had been blocking the policy.

Transgender troops had been allowed to serve openly since June 2016 when the Obama administration lifted the previous ban on their service.

But in July 2017, President Trump tweeted he would reverse the Obama administration policy, saying he would “not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.”

Under the Trump administration’s policy, those who came out as transgender under the Obama administration’s policy are allowed to continue serving openly and receive medical care.

But anyone who comes out now can only continue serving if they do so in their biological sex. Service members who have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria “may be subject to the initiation of administrative separation” if they are “unable or unwilling to adhere to all applicable standards, including the standards associated with their biological sex,” the policy says.

The policy allows the military services to grant waivers on a case-by-case basis.

The Pentagon denies the policy is a ban because of the transgender troops grandfathered in under the previous policy and because transgender people can serve in their biological sex.

But transgender service members and their advocates argue it effectively is a ban akin to the defunct “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that banned open service by gay, lesbian and bisexual people.

According to the lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal district court in Massachusetts, Doe is a lieutenant who was commissioned as a naval officer in 2010 and has served two extended tours of duty as a surface warfare officer.

She was diagnosed with gender dysphoria by a military doctor in June and subsequently told her commanding officer about the diagnosis and her transgender identity.

The lawsuit says she “now faces involuntary discharge from service and the end of her Navy career solely because she is transgender.”

“Through this action, Lieutenant Doe seeks to continue to serve in the United States Navy on equal terms with non-transgender service members, including the opportunity for continued service without having to delay or forgo medically appropriate care, deny or suppress her female gender identity, or secure a discretionary waiver that must be approved, if at all, by an unusually high-level political appointee,” the lawsuit says.

Doe applied for a waiver in October, the lawsuit says, but adds the waiver process “is itself a form of unequal treatment because it targets a specific group — transgender people, and requires them to seek a waiver that no other service member who meets the military’s standards for fitness and deployability is required to seek.”

In February, the Navy’s Transgender Care Team reviewed her medical records and determined that gender transition is medically necessary, the lawsuit adds.

“Our plaintiff’s situation highlights the serious harms the ban is causing to dedicated service members and to the military,” Shannon Minter, legal director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said in the news release. “The current policy mandates the discharge of any transgender service member, without regard for their fitness or value to the military, and even when replacing them would be extremely costly and disruptive.”

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