Today, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington ordered the Department of Defense to turn over documents that it has withheld regarding the Trump-Pence administration’s ban on open military service by transgender people, including its purported justifications for the policy.
“The government cannot conceal the truth about the development of this discriminatory policy and the absence of any justification for excluding qualified transgender people from serving our country,” Lambda Legal Counsel Peter Renn said.
“We look forward to the court shining a light onto what the government has fought very hard to hide. There is no cloak big enough to hide the deficiencies of the Pentagon’s rushed plan, which was cobbled together after-the-fact to backfill a justification for President Trump’s arbitrary tweets. We look forward to having our day in court when we can prove at trial why this ban remains rank discrimination that cannot stand. This ruling brings us one step closer to that day.”
In June 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit confirmed that the government’s policy still discriminates against transgender people and is subject to heightened scrutiny by the courts. It directed the district court to consider its discovery rulings with that legal framework in mind.
Today’s ruling comes on the heels of other court orders requiring disclosure, including a September 2019 decision by a Michigan court requiring an anti-LGBT organization to turn over its communications with the government regarding the ban, and a September 2019 decision from a Washington D.C. court also requiring disclosure of materials withheld by the military.
“Tomorrow, as I do today and as I did yesterday, I will put on the uniform of the U.S. Navy and do my duty,” NavaI Petty Officer Megan Winters said.
“I’m no different from my brothers and sisters in the U.S. Navy, and I’m not asking to be treated any differently. I perform the same duties, pass the same tests and measure up to the same standards. I’m committed to service for my country—no different than the thousands of other transgender individuals serving in the U.S. armed services—and I look forward to making that commitment known in court.”
“We are thrilled with the court’s decision today,” said Modern Military Association of American (MMAA) Legal & Policy Director Peter Perkowski.
“Our transgender service members have proven time and again that they are ready to serve, they are willing to serve, and they are able to serve. Through this ruling, we will have the opportunity to explore the full extent of the Trump-Pence Administration’s motivations behind their proposed ban to constrain the military service of these honorable, transgender patriots.”
In the lawsuit, Lambda Legal and MMAA represent eight individual plaintiffs – six currently serving members of the armed services and two individuals seeking to enlist – and three organizational plaintiffs: the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Seattle-based Gender Justice League, and MMAA, who joined the lawsuit on behalf of their transgender members harmed by the ban. (MMAA was formed by the merger of OutServe-SLDN, Lambda Legal’s original co-counsel in the lawsuit, and the American Military Partner Association, an organizational plaintiff.) The State of Washington also joined the lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.
The lawsuit is Karnoski v. Trump.
The Lambda Legal attorneys working on the case are: Peter Renn, Diana Flynn, Camilla B. Taylor, Tara Borelli, Paul Castillo, Sasha Buchert, Carl Charles and Kara Ingelhart. They are joined by co-counsel Peter Perkowski of MMAA. Also on the legal team are pro-bono co-counsel at Kirkland & Ellis LLP and Newman Du Wors LLP.
Statements from Organizational Plaintiffs:
“We deserve transparency when it comes to major policies that impact the wellbeing of our troops,” said HRC National Press Secretary Sarah McBride. “This decision will help us show the discriminatory agenda driving this administration, and demonstrate what is already clear, this ban is based on nothing more than personal animus. This is a critical win in the fight to protect transgender service members, and we thank Lambda Legal and MMAA for their representation in this case.”
“The federal government should cease its attempt to hide behind procedural blinds and feints to avoid truthfully answering the question of how they chose to determine the fitness of transgender people in the military,” said Elayne Wylie, Co-Executive Director, Gender Justice League. “Gender Justice League and thousands of transgender people in Washington State applaud the court ruling in support of justice for transgender service members.”