Cathrine Schmid, a staff sergeant at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, believes it is her duty as a transgender person and soldier to speak up when she sees something that appears to be unlawful.
“If I received an unlawful order from someone over me,” Schmid said, “it would be my responsibility to step forward and say, ‘Sir or ma’am, is this really what you want me to do?’”
Last week, a federal lawsuit was filed in Washington on behalf of Schmid, 33, and others, including the Seattle-based Gender Justice League, seeking to reverse President Donald Trump’s ban on military service by transgender people.
“Unfortunately this order came from the commander-in-chief, so the only way to speak up is to have someone step up in the court system,” said Schmid, adding that she is well-positioned to show that transgender people are fit to serve.
She said she has an exemplary record over the 12 years she’s been in the U.S. Army, specializing as a signals intelligence analyst, while stationed in Germany, South Korea and Iraq. She’s received medals, climbed in rank and has applied to become a warrant officer, she said.
“I love this job, serving this country and being a soldier,” Schmid said.
But her hopes of promotion and serving a long career in the military are threatened by a memo Trump issued in late August.
The president directed the Pentagon to implement a ban on transgender individuals from enlisting in or continuing to serve in the military, which he first announced in a tweet July 26.
The ban, which would take effect next year, also orders a halt to the use of Defense Department resources to fund sex-reassignment surgeries for military personnel, except if needed to protect the health of an individual who already has begun a course of sex-reassignment treatment.
“Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail,” Trump tweeted.
The plaintiffs, who claim they face immediate and irreparable harm, are asking the court to declare the ban unconstitutional and invalid.
White House officials said last week that they do not comment on pending litigation.
“The core emotion I feel right now is determination and sense of duty,” Schmid said in an interview.
Raised in Portland, Schmid said she joined the Army because “I thought it would make a man out of me. I knew I was transgender and wanted to get rid of those feelings.”
But she quickly discovered that just being a soldier didn’t make her gender dysphoria go away. She said she received a formal diagnosis in 2014 and her record of service allowed her to remain a soldier through her transition.
In 2016, the Obama administration changed U.S. policy, allowing openly transgender military personnel.
While Schmid came to love her job, putting on the uniform and saluting the flag every morning, she particularly enjoys her military community and mission.
“Those are the things I stay for,” she said.
The lawsuit, with Schmid and the Gender Justice League as named plaintiffs, was filed in U.S. District Court for Western Washington by Lamda Legal and OutServe-SLDN, a group dedicated to ending discrimination against military personnel on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Other transgender plaintiffs include Ryan Karnoski, 22, of Seattle, who wants to become an officer doing social work for the military, and Drew Layne, 17, of Corpus Christi, Texas, who wants to join the Air Force.
The nation’s largest LGBT advocacy group, the Human Rights Campaign, is also a plaintiff on behalf of its members.
The ACLU filed a similar suit in a Maryland federal court.
“This ban not only wrongfully prevents patriotic, talented Americans from serving, it also compromises the safety and security of our country,” said Peter Renn, a senior attorney for Lambda Legal.
In late August, before Trump formally issued his directive, GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders and the National Center for Lesbian Rights sued in Washington, D.C., on behalf of five transgender service members with nearly 60 years of combined military service.
The lawsuit, which says an estimated 8,800 or more transgender people currently serve in the military, asserts that Trump’s concerns about military preparedness, unit cohesion and medical costs are baseless.
According to a Rand Corp. study issued last year, there would be “minimal” impacts on readiness, with only 10 to 130 active-duty members having a reduced ability to deploy because of gender transition-related treatments.
The lawsuit also notes that 18 other countries, including 11 NATO members, allow transgender people to serve openly in the armed forces, and that the Rand study found no significant effect on their operational effectiveness.
Recent polling has shown that a strong majority of Americans — except for Republicans — say transgender people should be allowed to serve in the military.
Schmid and Karnoski are illustrative of hundreds of transgender veterans who are members of the Gender Justice League, said Danni Askini, the group’s executive director.
The military is a pipeline to future employment for many transgender people, Askini said, and Trump’s ban is “incredibly harmful” to a population that already suffers employment discrimination.
“I, of course, believe the commander-in-chief is doing what he knows to be right,” Schmid said. “However, there is an assumption among the public that we are unfit to serve, and I intend to show that is not the case. I’ve been doing this job for 12-and-a-half years and there’s nothing to indicate I shouldn’t be able to continue doing it.”