A month after unexpectedly announcing on Twitter that he would ban transgender people from the military, President Trump signed an executive order Friday prohibiting trans recruits from enlisting. Three lawsuits have already been filed challenging the order, and one transgender woman who's dreamed of enlisting isn't giving up hope. She's even willing to be a plaintiff in a lawsuit.
"If I can show legal damage to myself personally... I would be more than happy to put myself down as a plaintiff," she told Refinery29.
Celeste Mallory-René Burris, 26, first became interested in joining the military as a teenager, about the same time she started learning the language for how she now describes herself — as trans. She started living as Celeste full-time about a year ago, the same day she packed up and moved across the country to a small harbor town outside Seattle, where she now works at a grocery store.
But while she struggled with her gender identity as a teen growing up in a deeply conservative Indiana town, she saw enlisting as a way to help others, and in turn help herself.
"I thought that if I could be a shining light in the world for someone else, for my country... maybe I could shine that light on myself as well and maybe be a better person as a whole," Burris said in a phone interview with Refinery29. "But now we’re being told that we’re not fit to be that light in the world; we’re not fit to serve beside our brothers and sisters who are making a difference and helping people."
Before Trump made his directive official on Friday, Burris was optimistic the ban wouldn't go into effect — or at least it would be challenged in court. That's exactly what happened just days after the executive order was signed, as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Lambda Legal and OutServe-Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) have all sued the administration.
While two of the suits focus on transgender people already serving in the military, the one brought by Lambda Legal and SLDN encompasses both current soldiers and people who want to enlist.
What the new ban means for transgender soldiers already serving in the military is still unclear. The executive order signed last week prohibits the Department of Defense from providing trans soldiers with medical treatment regimens and instructed the departments of Defense and Homeland Security to look into how to handle transgender service members further. It's left to Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke, making it unclear if transgender soldiers will be kicked out altogether.
Although President Trump cited the "tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail" when first announcing the ban, removing current trans soldiers could cost the military as much as $960 million, 100 times more than providing transition-related healthcare to those already serving. It's estimated that transition-related care would cost the military $8.4 million a year, far less than 1% of Trump's proposed defense budget for 2018.
But like those who are already challenging the ban in court, Burris is determined to fight the directive in whatever way she can. If she isn't able to join a lawsuit herself, she wants to help bolster those who can.
"We're at a point in our country where you can't just sit on the sidelines anymore."