WASHINGTON — Transgender people will be allowed to enlist in the military beginning Jan. 1, Defense Department officials said Monday, a move that pauses President Donald Trump’s effort to bar transgender troops.
A federal judge allowed an October order pausing the ban to remain in effect, pending further legal review. The judge, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of the US District Court in Washington, said in a ruling Monday that the ban most likely violates constitutional rights to due process and equal protection.
She rejected the Trump administration’s argument that it needs more time to prepare to process new transgender recruits for military service.
“The court is not persuaded that defendants will be irreparably injured by allowing the accession of transgender individuals into the military beginning on Jan. 1, 2018,” she wrote.
The Department of Justice is now asking a federal appeals court to intervene and put the Jan. 1 requirement on hold.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House press secretary, suggested that Trump would continue to seek ways to carry out his ban. “The Department of Justice is currently reviewing the legal options to ensure the president’s directive is implemented,” she told reporters.
A Defense Department official said its move was partly a result of a barrage of lawsuits filed after Trump announced that he was barring transgender people from serving in the military.
Trump announced the ban in a series of tweets in July. He said then that he had decided to do so after consulting with generals and military experts, although Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was given only a day’s notice.
Advocates for allowing transgender people in the military said they were not yet ready to declare victory.
“What the ruling signals is that both the Pentagon and the courts have recognized that Trump was stepping out of his lane when he tweeted,” said Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, which advocates on behalf of the transgender community in the military.
But, he added: “This could be a long process. We just don’t know what happens next.”
Since Trump gave the order, the Pentagon has slow-walked it, telling transgender members of the military that they could continue to serve openly while the Pentagon decided how to handle the ban. Last month, the Pentagon paid for gender-reassignment surgery for an active-duty military member.
In announcing his ban, Trump tweeted that US forces could not afford the “tremendous medical costs and disruption” of transgender service members.
But the RAND Corp., in a 2016 study, found that allowing transgender people to serve openly in the military would “have minimal impact on readiness and health care costs” for the Pentagon.
In temporarily blocking the ban in October, Kollar-Kotelly said that the administration’s justification for it was suspect and probably unconstitutional.
Defense Department officials said that new guidelines, a reinstatement of Barack Obama’s opening of the military to transgender recruits, mean that new recruits will have to undergo medical tests before enlisting.
The Obama administration announced last year that the Pentagon would start accepting transgender recruits in summer 2017, but after taking over the department, Mattis delayed the policy’s implementation until the beginning of 2018, pending further review.