Utah transgender advocate says it’s ‘disgusting’ how Trump administration is treating service members

(Briana Scroggins | Tribune file photo) Sue Robbins overlooks downtown during a social hour before the Salt Lake Tribune Salt Awards in 2017. Robbins has spoken out against President Donald Trump's opposition to transgender people serving in the military.

Sue Robbins retired from the Army after 20 years of service, and she worries that active-duty service members like her could fall short of that milestone.

That’s because Tuesday morning, the U.S. Supreme Court lifted nationwide injunctions on a Trump administration policy barring transgender individuals from serving in the military.

“Someone could have 19-and-a-half years of service at this point, serving openly since the ban was lifted,” said Robbins, chairwoman of the Transgender Education Advocates (TEA) of Utah. “And now their hopes of retirement could be dashed right before they retire.”

Multiple legal challenges remain pending against the policy, which was announced by President Donald Trump via Twitter in July 2017, reportedly surprising even top military personnel and the president’s advisers. But the court’s decision Tuesday to lift injunctions allows the service ban to take effect while the outstanding lawsuits make their way through the judicial system.

That could mean current service members being discharged based on their gender identity, Robbins said, or discriminated against and compelled to “go back in the closet.”

“It’s been a roller-coaster ride for our service members,” Robbins said. “For all they do for us and our safety, it is just disgusting to me that we are treating them that way.”

Tuesday’s order by the Supreme Court follows a review of the transgender ban by a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. That review included subsequent revisions to the ban, limiting the service restriction to individuals who are both transgender and who are seeking to transition.

“Not all transgender persons seek to transition to their preferred gender or have gender dysphoria,” the appeals court ruled.

But Robbins said the ban goes beyond active-duty service members who are transgender. The policy devalues the service of veterans in the transgender community and dissuades future generations from considering service in the military.

“The current administration is sending a very clear message to all of our youth who are transgender,” Robbins said, “that they do not want them in the military, that they look at them as a burden.”

In addition to the military ban, the Trump administration has proposed defining gender as purely biological and determined at birth on the basis of genitalia. Reports of the proposal in October prompted a nationwide backlash, including a rally at Salt Lake City’s Wallace F. Bennett Federal Building in Ogden.

“They’re trying to legislate us out of existence,” Audrey Leiker, one of the attendees at the rally, said at the time. “And it’s not going to work.”