Former secretaries of the US Army, Navy, and Air Force threw their support behind transgender troops suing President Donald Trump for reversing the Pentagon policy allowing them to serve openly in the military on Thursday.
“President Trump’s stated rationales for reversing the policy and banning military service by transgender people make no sense,” Ray Mabus, the longest-serving Navy Secretary since World War I and a former governor of Mississippi, said in a statement supporting the lawsuit.
“They have no basis in fact and are refuted by the comprehensive analysis of relevant data and information that was carefully, thoroughly, and deliberately conducted,” Mabus continued.
The statements of support come as one group of troops suing the administration opened up a new legal front. On Thursday, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, or GLAD, filed a preliminary injunction and added two new plaintiffs to one of three lawsuits filed against Trump, Defense Secretary James Mattis and other Pentagon officials to date. It's the first case seeking immediate action by a judge to block, at least temporarily, the Trump administration from taking any action on the transgender service ban.
The five active-duty transgender soldiers originally listed in the plaintiff are only identified as “Jane Doe" — some of them have served as long as two decades, including tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The level of support from senior military leadership speaks volumes,” NCLR legal director Shannon Minter told BuzzFeed News. “That sends a powerful message about how deeply they are concerned about the damage that is being done to the military as an institution, as well as to transgender service members.”
Thursday’s action, filed in the US District Court for the District of Columbia, adds two named plaintiffs, US Naval Academy shipman Regan Kibby and Reserve Officers’ Training Corps student Dylan Kohere. The other two lawsuits are pending in Maryland and Washington State.
Reading Trump’s tweets “was painful, and I saw my future crumbling,” Kibby said in a statement, adding that the ban “ruins transgender servicemembers’ lives and ends the careers of trained, qualified members of our military for no reason other than who they are.”
Transgender troops have been allowed to serve openly since June 2016, after an exhaustive study commissioned by the Defense Department concluded that letting them serve openly would have a “minimal impact” on both military readiness and health care costs.
In a series of tweets last month that caught the Pentagon off guard, Trump announced that transgender troops would not be allowed to serve in the US military "in any capacity," citing "tremendous medical costs and disruption."
On Tuesday, Mattis said he was establishing a panel of experts from the Pentagon and Homeland Security Department to provide recommendations on how to implement the president’s directive. In the meantime, transgender troops will continue to be allowed to serve.
The statements by former Pentagon leaders filed on Thursday, including by the former Army deputy surgeon general, provide new details about the extensive yearlong review that led to the decision to allow transgender troops to serve openly.
The level of care that went into the Pentagon’s study “one of the most impressive decision-making processes I have ever witnessed,” Minter said.
In their statements, the former service secretaries argue that beyond being a betrayal of transgender troops who are currently serving, the ban would harm the military and national security.
Former army secretary Eric Fanning said that forcing out skilled, trained transgender troops would create “unexpected vacancies in operational units and (require) the expensive and time-consuming recruitment and training of replacement personnel.”
There are between 1,320 and 6,630 active duty transgender individuals currently in the military, according to a Rand Corp. analysis. Other studies put that number as high as 15,000.
Former army deputy surgeon general Margaret Wilmoth, who was involved in the process that led to the open service policy, also filed a statement explaining how the military decided to allow transgender troops to serve openly last year.
The yearlong process was “deliberative and thoughtful, involved significant amounts of research and education, and in the end resulted in a policy that all services supported,” she said.
“We were very proud to have developed a policy that treats transgender servicemembers as the equal of their fellow servicemembers, and as soldiers, sailors, marines, cuttermen, and airmen first.”
Former Air Force secretary Deborah Lee James declared that Trump’s ban would “harm both the military and the broader public interest,” and that an abrupt reversal of the previous policy would hurt morale.
Many former military leaders have opposed the ban from the beginning. Last month, 56 retired US generals and admirals came out against Trump’s directive, arguing that the ban “would cause significant disruptions, deprive the military of mission-critical talent, and compromise the integrity of transgender troops.”
Previously, two former chairs of the Joint Chiefs of Staff came out against Trump’s directive.
“I led our armed forces under the flawed ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy and saw firsthand the harm to readiness and morale when we fail to treat all service members according to the same standards,” retired Adm. Mike Mullen said in July. “Thousands of transgender Americans are currently serving in uniform, and there is no reason to single out these brave men and women.”
Zoe Tillman contributed to this report from Washington, DC.