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Federal judge in Baltimore considers whether to freeze Trump ban on transgenders in the military

Tim Prudente, The Baltimore Sun on

Published in News & Features

BALTIMORE -- Attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union urged a federal judge in Baltimore on Thursday to freeze President Donald Trump's impending ban on transgender Americans serving in the military.

The attorneys sought an injunction in U.S. District Court, arguing that the judge should stop the rollout until the ACLU can present its argument that the ban is unconstitutional in a forthcoming civil trial.

In August, the ACLU sued Trump on behalf of six transgender service members, including Petty Officer 1st Class Brock Stone, an 11-year Navy veteran stationed at Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County.

"Anyone can look at my service record and see my service has been honorable and exemplary," Stone, 34, said outside the Baltimore courtroom Thursday.

"I want to continue to serve my country as long as I remain qualified, and I want my fellow transgender Americans to have the same opportunity," Stone said. "We're equal to the task ... and we deserve an equal chance."

Department of Justice attorneys, however, argued it was too soon for a judge to step in and that the regulations are still being written. It's unclear if these new policies will even affect the six plaintiffs in the lawsuit, so any freeze is unnecessary, said Brett Shumate, a Justice Department attorney.

"We don't have a final policy," Shumate told U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis. "These plaintiffs are not suffering any harm right now, and it's entirely speculative."

Therefore, Shumate said, the plaintiffs lack legal standing.

"So you're saying they may have standing later, just not today?" Garbis asked.

"Certainly," Shumate said.

Joshua Block, an ACLU attorney, argued the looming ban had already harmed transgender service members.

"It puts a target on their backs and singles them out as unworthy to be there and unwanted," Block told the judge.

Trump announced his ban in August, and he established Jan. 1 as the day the military would roll back an Obama administration policy allowing transgender people to serve openly. Trump also established March 23, 2018, as a cutoff for service members to undertake sexual reassignment surgeries on their health plans.

"Except to the extent necessary to protect the health of an individual who has already begun a course of treatment to reassign his or her sex," the president ordered.

Such policies would affect a tiny fraction of the 1.3 million service members.

A RAND Corp. study last year estimated the number of transgender service members between 1,320 and 6,630 -- less than 1 percent of the military.

Last week, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., granted a similar request from plaintiffs seeking to halt Trump's ban. Justice Department attorneys said they might appeal in D.C.

A similar injunction in Maryland could help advocates drum up more support against the president's ban, said Block, the ACLU attorney.

Garbis didn't say Thursday when he would rule on the injunction request.

(c)2017 The Baltimore Sun

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