(CN) — Five transgender women who served their country for about a half century collectively — and have done so openly since 2016 — volleyed a federal court offensive Wednesday at the president of the United States and his senior military leaders.
Filed in Washington, the civil rights lawsuit marks the first salvo by the transgender military community after President Donald Trump upended their lives on July 26 in a policy by tweetstorm.
“After consultation with my generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military,” the tweets read, in piecemeal.
Jennifer Levi, an attorney for the service women with GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, said in a phone interview that Trump’s ban “devastated” her clients.
“They have served in the military for many years,” she said. “They proudly represented and protected their country.”
Amid reports that Trump’s directive blindsided the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Jane Doe plaintiffs corroborate these statements.
“The president’s announcement, which upon information and belief was made without consulting the Joint Chiefs of Staff, upset the reasonable expectations of plaintiffs and thousands of other transgender service members and the men and women with whom they serve and fight,” the lawsuit states.
Levi said that Trump’s ad-hoc approach to commanding the Pentagon does not follow the Constitution’s demands of due process.
“There has to be some rational basis for such a dramatic change in any governmental policy, let alone a military policy,” she said over the phone.
Though the brass has refused to implement any change without orders from a more usual channel than Twitter, the complaint names as defendants Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford, Defense Secretary James Mattis, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke.
Also named as defendants are the Department of the Army, the Department of the Air Force, the U.S. Coast Guard, the federal government and Trump.
While the Pentagon declined to comment, citing a policy for pending litigation, it highlighted a statement that the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s Gen. Dunford issued to the press last month.
“I know there are questions about yesterday’s announcement on the transgender policy by the president,” Dunford had said on July 27. “There will be no modifications to the current policy until the president’s direction has been received by the secretary of defense and the secretary has issued implementation guidance. In the meantime, we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect. As importantly, given the current fight and the challenges we face, we will all remain focused on accomplishing our assigned missions.”
Trump’s tweet-policy purports to repeal a policy the Pentagon adopted just a year earlier that allows transgender troops to serve openly. The troops behind Wednesday’s suit note that the policy enjoyed widespread support within the Department of Defense, and its social-media revocation inspired a prompt backlash across the aisle.
“Shortly following the announcement, the new policy met with substantial criticism from members of Congress belonging to both political parties,” the complaint notes. “These critics included Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who said in a statement that ‘there is no reason to force service members who are able to fight, train, and deploy to leave the military — regardless of their gender identity.’”
Sen. Joni Ernst, an Iowa Republican who also chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, also voiced her opposition to Trump’s maneuver, as did 56 retired generals and admirals who issued a public statement denouncing it.
Trump warned that allowing transgender troops to serve would cause “tremendous medical costs and disruption,” but a study by Rand Corporation, commissioned by the Department of Defense, directly contradicts this.
The study found that the medical costs for transgender service members would represent “an exceedingly small proportion of [the Department of Defense’s] overall health care expenditures.”
News reports tallied these costs as less than what the Department of Defense spends on erectile dysfunction medications like Viagra, or what the federal government spends to accommodate Trump’s visits to Mar a Lago to date.
Representing members of the Coast Guard, National Guard and the U.S. Army, Trump’s new court opponents filed their suit anonymously.
“Plaintiffs are active duty service members in the United States military who serve openly as transgender people,” their 15-page complaint states. “They proceed under pseudonyms here for fear of retribution.”
They are represented by Paul Wolfson with Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr.
Demanding an injunction blocking the policy, the service women call Trump’s directive an unconstitutional violation of their Fifth Amendment right to equal protection and due process.