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Court orders military to turn over trans ban documents

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SEATTLE — A federal court has 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 U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington issued the order on Wednesday.

“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 in a press release. “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, 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 decision by a Michigan court requiring an anti-LGBT organization to turn over its communications with the government regarding the ban, and a decision from a Washington D.C. court also requiring disclosure of materials withheld by the military.

“We are thrilled with the court’s decision today,” said Modern Military Association of America (MMAA) Legal & Policy Director Peter Perkowski in the press release. “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. Read today’s ruling here.

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