Opinion: Right after MLK Day, the Supreme Court takes the country a step backward on civil rights

Plaintiffs Cathrine Schmid, second from left, and Conner Callahan, second from right, with supporters at a March 2018 news conference.
(Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)

Talk about taking a step backward on civil rights — that’s what the Supreme Court did when it decided to allow the Trump administration’s ban on transgender people serving in the military to go into effect. The policy does permit hundreds of transgender people serving openly since 2016 to continue to do so. Other transgender people can serve if they do so in their “biological sex.”

Seriously? That’s like telling a black person they can serve in the military if they pass as white.

Yes, the court’s 5-4 decision to reinstate the ban is temporary, lasting only until the merits of the ban get thrashed about in various federal courts. But the courts could take months to make their decisions while this ban does its damage to the military and to the dedicated men and women who want to serve in it.


Of course, the Trump administration’s brief to the Supreme Court argued the exact reverse: that the damage to the military will be serious if the ban is not put in place. The administration is as wrong on this as prior administrations were when they balked at having an integrated military or gay people in the military or women in the military. The U.S. armed forces have not just survived; they have thrived with all those changes.

Nearly 20 countries across the world, including Australia, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom and Israel, allow transgender military personnel. A Rand Corp. study looked closely at four of those militaries and found that none reported any negative impacts on operational effectiveness or force cohesion.

This is not some radical experiment. Transgender people have been serving openly in all branches of the military since 2016 and have been on active duty in combat zones.

There’s no question this issue needs to be resolved once and for all — either by the Supreme Court or Congress. The right thing to do would be for the Trump administration to drop this misguided ban. Failing that, the Supreme Court should overturn the ban once and for all. It would be a gross violation of civil rights to continue to bar transgender men and women from serving this country as members of its military.