BOSTON — A U.S. naval officer who is facing involuntary discharge because of a policy restricting transgender people from military service has filed a lawsuit that aims to force defense officials to allow her to continue serving.
The federal lawsuit, filed Tuesday, is the first legal challenge to the policy since rules went into effect in April 2019 stripping transgender troops of rights they secured under the Obama administration to serve openly and to have their medical transitions covered in their health benefits, lawyers said.
The officer, a transgender woman stationed in Massachusetts, is seeking to transition and serve in the Navy as a woman, the lawsuit says.
“This is a moment when we need all hands on deck, and there is absolutely no justification for discharging somebody who is continuing to meet all standards and wants to continue to serve,” said Jennifer Levi, transgender rights director for GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders.
A Department of Defense spokeswoman said it is aware of the lawsuit and is reviewing the filings.
Under the new policy, people who have undergone gender transition are banned from enlisting, and military members who come out as transgender and seek a transition face discharge. Service members must serve under the gender they were assigned at birth unless they began a transition under less restrictive Obama administration rules.
Four other lawsuits seeking to overturn the policy are pending in court and are expected to go to trial, but the Supreme Court last year ruled that the ban could go into effect while the cases continued.
The latest lawsuit only seeks relief for the officer, who is not named in legal documents to “minimize risk to her," her lawyers said.
The officer has served for nearly a decade, including two extended tours as a surface warfare officer, according to her complaint. She was diagnosed with gender dysphoria two months after the policy went into effect in April 2019 and told her commanding officer she is transgender shortly after, her lawyers said.
"Lieutenant Doe is now subject to discharge for being who she is, unrelated to her fitness to serve in the military," the lawsuit says.