U.S. federal appeals courts in the states of Washington and Virginia have rejected the Trump administration’s request to override orders by lower court judges requiring the military to begin accepting transgender recruits on Jan. 1.
A Justice Department official said the administration would not challenge the rulings, which froze Trump's controversial order to ban transgender people from the U.S. Armed Forces.
“The Department of Defense has announced that it will be releasing an independent study of these issues in the coming weeks. So rather than litigate this interim appeal before that occurs, the administration has decided to wait for DOD’s study and will continue to defend the president’s lawful authority in District Court in the meantime,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
In September, the Pentagon created a panel of senior officials to study how best to implement Trump's directive prohibiting transgender individuals from serving in the military. The Defense Department has until Feb. 21 to submit a plan to Trump.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had reportedly been one of many among serving and retired top brass who was surprised by Trump's announcement of the ban via Twitter in July.
Trump said on Twitter at the time that the military “cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”
Core supporters of the U.S. commander-in-chief praised the measure, including Tony Perkins, the head of the hardline right-wing Family Research Council – a group described as an anti-gay “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The directive caught flak from transgender service members, veterans, LGBTQ civil rights groups and allies who found the reversal of Obama's policy of trans acceptance to be arbitrary and discriminatory toward those seeking to contribute to the U.S.'s global warfighting efforts.
No Justice No Pride, a coalition calling for an end to what it calls “the LGBT movement's complicity in systems of oppression” that harm its community, expressed frustration in the move and described it as meant to “to drum up support among the administration’s transphobic base as it seeks to distract from its failures and embarrassments” in advancing Trump administration policy initiatives.
The coalition also warned against moves to celebrate U.S. militarism, highlighting how the campaign for trans inclusion in the U.S. Armed Forces was funded by prominent 66-year-old Republican philanthropist and retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Jennifer (formerly James) Pritzker, who is described as the “world's first trans billionaire” by Forbes magazine. The Pritzker family dynasty created Hyatt Hotels and owns credit reporting company TransUnion, smokeless tobacco firm Conwood and significant real estate holdings in Chicago, Illinois.
In 2013, Pritzker gave US$1.35 million to the Palm Center – a center advocating for trans inclusion in the U.S. military – in a donation that amounted to the “largest transgender-focused grant” ever. At the time, Jennifer's sister Penny Sue Pritzker was then-President Obama's secretary of commerce.
“We reject the idea that trans military service should be a priority for the movement for trans liberation,” No Justice No Pride said. “For trans individuals, the right to housing, jobs, food, healthcare, education, and safety should not be contingent on putting one’s life on the line in service of the U.S. war machine.”
Lawyers representing currently-serving transgender service members and aspiring recruits said they had expected the administration to appeal the rulings to the conservative-majority Supreme Court, but were hoping that would not happen.
Pentagon spokeswoman Heather Babb said in a statement: “As mandated by court order, the Department of Defense is prepared to begin accessing transgender applicants for military service Jan. 1. All applicants must meet all accession standards.”
Jennifer Levi, a lawyer with gay, lesbian and transgender advocacy group GLAD, called the decision not to appeal “great news.”
“I’m hoping it means the government has come to see that there is no way to justify a ban and that it’s not good for the military or our country,” Levi said. Both GLAD and the American Civil Liberties Union represent plaintiffs in the lawsuits filed against the administration.
Trump has taken other steps aimed at rolling back transgender rights. In October, his administration said a federal law banning gender-based workplace discrimination does not protect transgender employees, reversing another Obama-era position. In February, Trump rescinded guidance issued by the Obama administration saying that public schools should allow transgender students to use the restroom that corresponds to their gender identity.