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U.S. seeks to quash transgender military lawsuit

The Justice Department is asking a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit challenging President Donald Trump’s moves to curtail military service by transgender people.

The lawsuit was filed in August by the National Center for Lesbian Rights and GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) on behalf of eight transgender individuals, including service members in the Air Force, Coast Guard and the Army, as well as students at the U.S. Naval Academy and in the ROTC program at the University of New Haven.

Trump tweeted in July that the federal government “will not accept or allow” transgender individuals to serve “in any capacity” in the military. That would reverse a 2016 policy change that allowed transgender people to serve openly.

Trump subsequently directed the Pentagon to extend indefinitely a ban on transgender individuals joining the military, and gave Defense Secretary Jim Mattis six months to come up with a policy on how to deal with those who are currently serving, leaving the door open to permitting their continued service.

Trump also directed Mattis to halt the use of federal funds to pay for sexual reassignment surgeries and medications, except in cases where it is deemed necessary to protect the health of an individual who has already begun the transition.

Late Wednesday, the Justice Department filed a brief asking a U.S. District Court judge in Washington to dismiss the lawsuit.

The lawsuit “is premature and should be dismissed for many reasons, including that the Defense Department is actively reviewing such service requirements, as the president ordered,” said Justice Department spokeswoman Lauren Ehrsam. She said none of the plaintiffs have established that they will be impacted by current policies on military service.

The two advocacy groups who filed the lawsuit assailed that assertion, saying there was a “compelling need” to halt the administration’s efforts.

“Transgender Americans looking to enlist are not able to do so, and currently serving transgender service members have been demeaned and stigmatized, denied health care, and are facing the loss of their professions, livelihoods, health care, and the post-military retirement they have worked hard to earn,” the groups said Thursday.

The groups highlighted the uncertainty now facing Dylan Kohere, the University of New Haven student, and Regan Kibby, the Naval Academy student.

“Because of the president’s ban, smart, dedicated, and idealistic young people like our plaintiffs … are barred from fulfilling their dreams of military service,” said Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

The Justice Department brief argued that the lawsuit, even if it were allowed to proceed, was likely to fail.

“Federal courts owe the utmost deference to the political branches in the field of national defense and military affairs, both because the Constitution commits military decisions exclusively to those branches and because courts ‘have less competence’ to second-guess military decision-making,” the brief said.

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