On Jan. 23 in the early morning, Staff Sgt. Katie Schmid—stationed at Camp Humphreys, South Korea—awoke to messages from loved ones in the U.S. informing her that the Supreme Court had allowed the Trump administration to enforce its transgender military ban. The 5-4 ruling, which granted a stay on lower court rulings, hit close to home for Schmid, a co-plaintiff in Karnoski v. Trump, the Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN’s federal lawsuit challenging the ban. But it didn’t come as a surprise to her.
Challenges to the policy had led to several injuctions blocking the ban since President Donald Trump issued a memorandum in 2017, but the conservative majority on the high court put a hold on some of them in the Jan. 22 ruling. One nationwide injunction that remains has currently prevented the ban from going into effect, although it is unclear for how long.
Schmid spent the next few hours chatting with friends and colleagues about the potential effects of the policy. She’d served at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, located 9 miles south of Tacoma, for two years prior to being stationed in South Korea, and planned to return to the Washington base at the end of the year. “For now, I have been grandfathered in under the last paragraph of the policy so that I won’t be kicked out immediately,” Schmid wrote in an email to Seattle Weekly.
The policy, officially announced in 2018, bans transgender people who require or have undergone surgical and hormonal transition from serving in the military. Exceptions include those who received a gender-dysphoria diagnosis by a military medical provider following a 2016 Obama administration policy permitting transgender troops to openly serve. As a 14-year military member, the ban bars Schmid and other transgender personnel who are already openly serving from being promoted to officer status, Schmid said. Transgender military personnel may be promoted only if “they can demonstrate 36 consecutive hours of stability—i.e., absence of gender dysphoria immediately preceding their application; they have not transitioned to the opposite gender; and they are willing and able to adhere to all standards associated with their biological sex,” stated a 2018 Pentagon memo.
In Schmid’s eyes, the policy is undergirded by the presupposition that transgender military personnel are less competent than their cisgender counterparts. “For most soldiers, the assumption is that they can do their job until they prove otherwise. They are given the opportunity by default,” Schmid said. “I am in a situation where I do not have that opportunity—the assumption now is that we do not belong, and anything we do can and will be used against us.”
Although uncertain about her future, as well as that of the other 8,980 active duty transgender troops and those seeking to enlist, Schmid did the same thing she does every morning after learning about the ruling: She put on her uniform and returned to work.
Seattle-based nonprofit Gender Justice League became a co-plaintiff along with Schmid in the Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN’s lawsuit after staff realized that some of the organization’s members were active-duty military personnel. “We’re going to keep fighting because it’s the right thing to do, to stand up for Washington residents’ right to serve in the military if they choose to do that,” said Gender Justice League co-executive director Elayne Wylie.
The ban could have a wide-reaching impact on the economy of Washington state, where more than 95,000 active duty, civilian, guard, and reserve personnel live. According to the Gov. Jay Inslee’s website, the military and defense sector serves as the state’s second largest public employer. Since last week’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Wylie said that many transgender active-duty military personnel and veterans have contacted the organization to express their concerns about the ban. “They’ve been serving with valor and they’ve been serving with excellence. They’re expressing their most authentic selves and they’re being told that that’s not good enough,” Wylie said. The organization is connecting them with attorneys and resources to help them access housing, health care, and employment if they lose their jobs.
Washington politicians also voiced their disapproval. “I am extremely disappointed in the Supreme Court’s decision to allow the Trump administration to enforce its discriminatory ban on transgender military service without proper due process in the courts,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA) said in a press release. “Anyone who is qualified and willing should be allowed to serve their country openly, without their career being affected by an arbitrary, discriminatory directive from the president. We have fought against this bigoted policy at every step, and we will continue to do so.”
Although the final order on the policy could take years to be decided while legal challenges continue to wend through the courts, last week’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling has not dampened Schmid’s love for her job. “The policy hasn’t gone into effect quite yet, but the fight isn’t over. Not by a long shot. The courts still have not made a final decision on the matter. But as for me, every day I put on this uniform is a victory. Every single day I serve in the Army proves my place here, and nobody can take that from me,” Schmid said.