Transgender service members are celebrating a win in the courts this week. On Monday, a district judge in Washington, DC, ruled that come January 1, the military must start accepting new recruits who are openly transgender. It’ll be a first in the history of our armed services—if the Trump administration doesn’t find a way to block the order before then. And according to Aaron Belkin, the director of a think tank called the Palm Center that focuses on LGBT military issues, that’s a big “if.”
Belkin says it’s not a question of whether the military is ready and able to accept new trans recruits: Under the Obama administration, the Pentagon started training hundreds of staffers on how to evaluate incoming trans candidates, and it has already refined its policies on how to accommodate them. But the Trump administration has signaled that it’s not ready to stop fighting to keep them out.
Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly’s new ruling about their enlistment is only a temporary injunction, as multiple lawsuits over President Donald Trump’s military policies wind their way through the courts. “It’s a very fluid environment with a lot of uncertainty,” says Belkin. “You can see policies shifting back and forth between extremes, as was the case at the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
I caught up Belkin about why hopeful transgender recruits may still be holding their breaths as we approach January 1.
- The Trump administration could try to block their enlistment by appealing the injunction: To do so, it would need to argue that the judge’s reasoning for the injunction wasn’t justified, which “would take at the very least several months to play out,” says Belkin.
- It could also try to stay the injunction, which would allow the Pentagon to enforce the president’s ban: This would be a quicker process, but potentially tricky. The government would need to argue that openly transgender troops and new recruits harm the military in a significant way, even though, as Belkin points out, the military decided back in 2016 that an inclusive policy would improve its readiness.
- Trump could pull a bait and switch, à la the Muslim ban: “In the same way the White House tried to invalidate court rulings by slightly changing its formulation of the Muslim ban, in theory, the White House could try to moot the injunctions and force the litigators to restart the litigation process from scratch by altering the contours of the [transgender military] ban,” Belkin says.