By Hugo Greenhalgh
LONDON, Jan 8 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Four senior retired U.S. military officers on Tuesday blasted a legal ruling backing President Donald Trump's ban on transgender individuals serving in the armed forces as "wrong" ahead of a key decision from the country's top court on Friday.
The officers said a ruling last week by a Washington appeals court in favour of a ban on transgender recruits was misguided and backed an earlier decision that such a policy would violate their constitutional rights.
"The D.C. Court of Appeals made an error when it lifted one of the injunctions that protect transgender members of our military," said retired officers Lieutenant General Claudia Kennedy, Rear Admiral John Hutson, Major General Gale Pollock and Brigadier General Clara Adams-Ender.
"The need for an injunction protecting transgender people who serve their country remains precisely the same," they said in a joint statement obtained exclusively by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
In July 2017, Trump tweeted that transgender people would be banned from serving in the U.S. military, citing the "tremendous medical costs and disruption".
Former defense secretary Jim Mattis last year proposed allowing trans individuals currently serving to remain.
However, new transgender recruits and trans servicemen and women who sought to transition after the ban took effect would be barred.
In its ruling, the Washington appeals court said the Mattis proposal did not represent a "blanket ban" on trans individuals.
But the retired chiefs said the rationale for the Mattis policy and the Trump tweets was "the same — politics, not military expertise — and courts should not be deferring to it".
A 2016 RAND Corporation survey estimated that there were between 1,300 and 6,600 trans men and women on active duty in the 1.3 million-strong U.S. military.
"The Trump tweets and the Mattis policy take aim at the same people: troops diagnosed with gender dysphoria," said Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, an independent research institute that focuses on LGBT+ people and the military.
"They ban the same thing: gender transition. They have the same effect: forcing transgender troops to live a lie and denying them medically necessary care."
Other LGBT+ rights organisations echoed Belkin's concerns.
The administration is "trying to package this as an entirely new policy, but all it does is what President Trump ordered: ban openly transgender people from bravely serving their country", said Tara Borelli, counsel at Lambda Legal.
Ryan Thoreson, an LGBT+ researcher at Human Rights Watch, said: "Wording the Mattis policy slightly differently doesn't change the plain fact that this is and always has been a ban on transgender service."
Under rules introduced by former U.S. President Barack Obama, the country's military did not distinguish between trans men and women and other service personnel.
Trump has requested the matter be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, which will convene on Friday to decide whether to review the three injunctions still in place. (Reporting by Hugo Greenhalgh @hugo_greenhalgh; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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