University of New Haven transgender student's military service in limbo

Dylan Kohere, a freshman at the University of New Haven, is one of eight transgender individuals suing the Trump administration over its plan to ban transgender individuals from serving in the military (photo courtesy of GLAD).
Dylan Kohere, a freshman at the University of New Haven, is one of eight transgender individuals suing the Trump administration over its plan to ban transgender individuals from serving in the military (photo courtesy of GLAD).

Since the sixth grade, Dylan Kohere, a freshman at the University of New Haven, has wanted to serve in the military. But since he is a transgender male, it's unclear whether he'll be able to continue to pursue that dream.

Kohere is one of eight transgender individuals, including members of the Air Force, Coast Guard and Army, along with a student at the Naval Academy, who are challenging President Donald Trump's plan to ban transgender individuals from serving in the military. The Department of Justice has moved to dismiss the lawsuit. The judge is expected to schedule a hearing in the near future.

"I felt like the dream that I had wanted to do since I was in sixth grade was being stomped on for no reliable reason other than just because of who I identify as," Kohere said in a phone interview Tuesday night. Prior to the lawsuit, he had not talked publicly about his experience as a transgender person.

"I know that I'm physically and mentally capable of serving as a member of the U.S. Army, but I'm being told that I can't because I'm transgender," added the 18-year-old.

Lawyers from the National Center for Lesbian Rights and GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders filed a lawsuit on behalf of the transgender individuals in early August after Trump tweeted on July 26 that the U.S. "will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity" in the military.

Trump followed his tweets with a memo in late August directing the Pentagon to reinstate a ban on transgender individuals serving in the military. In the memo, Trump said that the Obama administration "failed to identify" whether allowing transgender troops to serve openly would hinder military effectiveness, disrupt unit cohesion or tax military resources.

The memo gives Defense Secretary James Mattis until Feb. 21, 2018, to come up with a plan to implement the ban and how to address transgender individuals serving in the military. Mattis is reportedly expected to deliver his decision by Jan. 1.

In a court filing Monday, the attorneys for the plaintiffs disputed the federal government's argument that it's too early to challenge the ban given details have not been finalized and that no harm had been done to current transgender troops. The government will respond to the filing on Friday, and the judge is expected to schedule a hearing after that.

"If you announce transgender service members are subject to discharge in March, that has a significant impact on their assignments, training opportunities, on promotion opportunities, and on their ability to supervise other troops, just to name a few," said Jennifer Levi, a lead attorney for the plaintiffs and director of GLAD's Transgender Rights Project.

On Monday, Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen joined a group of more than a dozen of his counterparts in opposing Trump's plan. The Democratic attorney generals filed a brief in support of the lawsuit being brought by GLAD and NLCR, arguing that banning transgender individuals from serving in the military is unconstitutional, against the interest of national defense and harmful to the transgender community.

The military, at this time, is not accepting transgender recruits, which impacts transgender students at military service academies and in Reserve Officers' Training Corps programs.

Kohere considered joining the military out of high school, but opted to go to college instead and join ROTC because of the career opportunities available to commissioned officers. He signed up during summer orientation and was placed into ROTC classes and the ROTC Living Learning Community, he said.

While he's able to participate in some aspects of ROTC such as classroom labs, he said that he's been told that he can't participate in the physical training and field exercises due to military policy.

"It's frustrating because I'm putting a lot of work in to make sure that I figure everything out in the classroom labs, to make sure I stay up to par with everybody else," said Kohere, who goes to the gym on his own to make sure he can still meet all the physical requirements.

An August 2016 study from the Rand Corp., commissioned by the Pentagon, estimated that between 1,320 and 6,630 transgender individuals serve on active duty in the U.S. military, and estimated medical costs related to transgender service would be between $2.4 million and $8.4 million annually.

"I've always been the type of person to fight for what I believe in," Kohere said of why he's choosing to speak publicly about the lawsuit. "This has been my dream since I was little and I'm being directly targeted as a transgender individual who wants to join the military."

j.bergman@theday.com

Editor's Note: This version clarifies that Kohere has spoken to the news media about the lawsuit but previously had not spoken publicly about his experience as a transgender person wanting to serve in the military.

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