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Judge Rejects Part of Trump’s Ban on Transgender Military Members Serving Openly

StoryNovember 01, 2017
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As a federal judge blocks part of President Trump’s transgender military ban, we speak with a trans former marine who is challenging the ban, and look at how six active-duty transgender servicemembers sued the Trump administration. We speak with Z Shane Zaldivar, a former marine and community advocate, and Jennifer Levi, director of GLAD’s Transgender Rights Project. She is the lead attorney in Doe v. Trump, the first case filed against President Trump’s transgender military ban.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to a federal judge’s decision to temporarily block President Trump’s proposed ban on transgender troops from serving in the U.S. military. On Monday, federal Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly blocked Trump’s directive, writing that the proposed ban, quote, “does not appear to be supported by any facts.” In her opinion, the judge wrote, quote, “There is absolutely no support for the claim that the ongoing service of transgender people would have any negative effect on the military at all. In fact, there is considerable evidence that it is the discharge and banning of such individuals that would have such effects,” unquote. The judge also blasted President Trump for announcing the ban via Twitter.

The ruling came after six active-duty transgender servicemembers sued the Trump administration. This is 18-year-old Dylan Kohere, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit challenging the ban.

DYLAN KOHERE: Then, one day in July, just before I was supposed to start my program at UNH, I got a text from my best friend saying that President Trump had just tweeted that transgender people would no longer be allowed to serve. And I honestly did not believe it. I was angry, and I was frustrated. And I felt directly targeted. And because of it and the military policy changes that followed, I cannot participate in ROTC, not because I am not capable or qualified, but entirely because of who I am. And unless these legal efforts to halt President Trump’s ban are successful, I won’t be able to join the military, fulfill my dream and serve my country.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Dylan Kohere, one of the six active-duty transgender servicemembers who sued the Trump administration over the proposed ban.

Well, we’re joined now from Chicopee, Massachusetts, by the lead attorney in this lawsuit, Jennifer Levi, director of GLAD’s Transgender Rights Project, and in Nashville, Tennessee, by Z Shane Zaldivar, a transgender former marine, community advocate, hotline program director for Trans Lifeline.

Jennifer, let’s begin with you. The significance of the judge’s ruling, and if you could specifically address her emphasis on President Trump’s tweets?

JENNIFER LEVI: Yeah. So the court ordered that the military may not ban transgender people from serving, that there’s no military reasons for doing so.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you explain what it is she was ruling on? In your lawsuit?

JENNIFER LEVI: Yeah, absolutely. So, President tweet last—sorry, President Trump last summer issued a tweet that said transgender people would not be allowed to serve, and he followed that with a White House memorandum that set a specific date for discharging transgender people who are currently serving. So we challenged that on behalf of six people who are currently serving in the military, who have been serving for decades, proudly and courageously. And what this judge said is that not only are there no military reasons for denying transgender people the ability to serve, but that the military itself, after exhaustively studying this issue, said that transgender people—allowing transgender people to serve strengthens the military.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, the judge writes in her ruling, many—quote, “Many transgender service members identified themselves to their commanding officers in reliance on that [Obama administration] pronouncement. Then, the president [Trump] abruptly announced, via Twitter—without any of the formality or deliberative processes that generally accompany the development and announcement of major policy changes that will gravely affect the lives of many Americans—that all transgender individuals would be precluded from participating in the military in any capacity. These circumstances provide additional support for Plaintiffs’ claim that the decision to exclude transgender individuals was not driven by genuine concerns regarding military efficacy.” The judge—that’s what the judge wrote. Jennifer Levi, this was a stunning decision.

JENNIFER LEVI: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, what the judge recognized is that President Trump precipitously, without care or thought, reversed military policy. Transgender people have been allowed to serve openly, have been doing so courageously, defending this nation. And the tweets showed that the harsh language that it included, the categorical and sweeping ban on the community, reflected the fact that this was intended to target a politically unpopular group of people, and it had absolutely no basis in military judgment.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s turn to President Trump’s tweets. Back in July, he tweeted, “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. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you,” he wrote. Those were three separate tweets put together. So I wanted to ask Z Shane Zaldivar—you’re a trans former marine. What was your response when those tweets came down in July? Where were you? Were you shocked? And what do you think, now that they’re trying to say, “We never instituted any change”? And yet you have the judge saying, “What are you talking about? A tweet, as you, yourselves, have said, is a presidential announcement.”

Z SHANE ZALDIVAR: For me, it was shocking. There was a lot of hard work that LGBT and trans individuals have done, since the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and before, to help for our GLBT servicemembers to serve openly. And to get this news from a tweet seemed disrespectful to folks who give their lives every day to protect this country and the rights that we have.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And your reaction to the judge’s decision?

Z SHANE ZALDIVAR: I mean, this directive violates the fundamental guarantees of due process afforded by the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution. You know, this doesn’t change policy. What it does is place the policy under review. Trans servicemembers are still protected under the current policy, until this review is submitted. But even once it’s submitted, this shows that the president has bias against a marginalized community of citizens. So, even if the review would come back and say, again, what the RAND report and the Palm Center report says, which is that trans servicemembers in open service does not harm military readiness, it is that taking trans servicemembers out of their units is what actually does indeed harm military readiness and effectiveness.

AMY GOODMAN: Z, you are the hotline program director for Trans Lifeline. What is that?

Z SHANE ZALDIVAR: Trans Lifeline is a suicide prevention and crisis management hotline for the transgender community.

AMY GOODMAN: And after President Trump made this pronouncement, in the series of tweets that apparently most in the Pentagon did not even know were going to go down in July, did not even know what he was referring to, when he first announced, “We’re announcing a major change in policy.” That was the first tweet. Some thought he was going to announce that we were bombing North Korea. What was the response on the hotline? What kind of tension have you observed? Has it increased among the trans community?

Z SHANE ZALDIVAR: It certainly has. This shows that there is bias and prejudice against a marginalized community. Folks that weren’t necessarily servicemembers nor wanted to become servicemembers, never thought that they would be, felt directly attacked, because, again, this is targeting the transgender community, and this is federal-sanctioned discrimination against one of the most marginalized groups of people in this country.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Now, Z, you served in the Marines from 2001 to 2003, during the period of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Could you talk about your own experiences with that policy and then the impact of how—when the Obama administration did away with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”?

Z SHANE ZALDIVAR: Sure. I got into community activism and social justice work, because I was honorably discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” And so, I fought, first and foremost, for myself to get back into uniform and to get back to my unit, who at that time we were in a period of conflict and combat, and realizing after fighting for the repeal that even under the Military Readiness Enhancement Act this still didn’t include transgender persons, so I knew then that I was going to continue to have to fight to include trans folks in open service. And we had thought that we won that fight in 2015, and now we’re continuing to have to fight for the fundamental constitutional right to serve our country.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us. I want to say, former Alabama chief Roy Moore just tweeted—or, just said, in a statement issued on Monday night calling for the removal of the judge who struck down Trump’s ban on transgender people in the military, saying her decision was completely “ridiculous” and “a clear example of judicial activism.” He is now running for the U.S. Senate out of Alabama.

And that does it for our show. We want to thank Z Shane Zaldivar for joining us, and Jennifer Levi, attorney with GLAD’s Transgender Rights Project.

I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. There are internship applications available at Democracy Now! Go to Thanks for joining us.

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