The Liberty Counsel is the latest anti-LGBTQ hate group to involve itself in the legal fight over President Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the military.
Representing other anti-LGBTQ groups that have been subpoenaed over their role in crafting the ban, which President Trump signed in March, Liberty Counsel claims that the group facing discrimination — transgender service members — is, in fact, the bully. It argues that the groups that orchestrated the discriminatory law are the victims.
With the federal government refusing to provide documentation about how the decision to implement the March transgender ban was made, Lambda Legal is seeking out information directly from conservatives who may have consulted on the ban, and has subpoenaed several of the groups involved. The Liberty Counsel announced Wednesday it had filed objections to the subpoenas on behalf of Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council (FRC), and Ronnie Floyd, senior pastor of an Arkansas megachurch and a member of Trump’s evangelical advisory board.
According to the Liberty Counsel, “aggressive LGBT activists” are “abusing subpoena power to deliberately harass pro-faith leaders like Floyd and Perkins who are not in any way related to the lawsuit.” Mat Staver, the group’s chairman, said the activists are trying to “harass and bully” faith leaders. Perkins has previously described the subpoenas as an attempt to “intimidate FRC and our supporters from standing up for our military service members.”
Since Trump took office, his administration has dismantled protections for transgender people at every turn, including in education, health care, the prison system, housing, and employment — all in addition to the military ban. It’s rather absurd, then, to suggest that transgender people are the intimidating bullies, particularly when Perkins and Floyd each had the ear of the president and have used it to advocate against allowing transgender people to serve their country.
Floyd actually joined other evangelical leaders at the White House two weeks before Trump announced the ban on Twitter last year, where they openly advocated for the president to reverse the Obama administration’s decision to let trans people serve. They then followed up with a signed letter to Trump calling on him to institute the ban. In 2017, Floyd became president of the National Day of Prayer, and as such gave the official prayer at the White House event earlier this month.
Lest there be any doubt, Floyd has made quite clear that he opposes any support for transgender people. Back in 2016, when Floyd was still president of the Southern Baptist Convention, he decried Obama administration guidance protecting transgender students in schools as “an outrageous attack on our Creator Himself, human sexuality and morality, and an advancement of the attack against religious freedom.” He insisted that “gender is not fluid” and respecting trans identities “contributes to the continual chaos in our society.”
Perkins played in an even bigger role in the ban, and he has boasted as much. He personally took credit for lobbying Trump for the ban, and admitted to knowing it was coming even though the military’s leadership did not. Perkins also contributed to a secret working group impaneled by Vice President Pence to overrule any trans-friendly recommendations made by a military study group. Documents show that the official military panel only heard testimony in favor of letting trans people serve, yet the final recommendations somehow called for the opposite.
It’s not hard to understand why both these conservatives and the Trump administration are trying to cover up these interactions. When the judges in this case and the three others all ruled against the ban, they explained that there could be no explanation for it other than discriminatory intent because there was no consultation or study before the decision was made. If anti-trans lobbying was the primary motivation — not, say, military cohesion — then the ban won’t stand.
This is particularly evident in the way the Trump administration appears to have orchestrated the study to make it look like there was a deliberative process. The “new ban” issued in March was exactly the same as the old ban Trump tweeted last summer, but the administration is insisting it’s somehow different so that it can claim that there was significant deliberation and expert recommendations supporting the ban. The administration is also arguing that these deliberations are privileged, seemingly hoping to cover up the stark mismatch between what the study panel heard — trans people should be allowed to serve — and the ban that Pence’s working group ultimately delivered.
Technically it’s true that deliberative process within the executive branch is privileged and immune to disclosure or discovery, but the LGBTQ legal groups are challenging the notion that such privilege applies in this case. In a recent court filing, Lambda Legal explained that since the “new ban” is the same as the old, any study or deliberations that transpired after Trump’s tweets last July constitute “post-hoc justifications” — not deliberative process. In other words, just because the administration studied the ban after it was implemented doesn’t mean it deserves credit for doing so. The administration’s “new ban” is simply a farce to cover its tracks.
Lambda Legal also points out in a footnote that the administration is conspicuously not trying to protect any deliberative materials that preceded Trump’s tweets announcing the ban. Hypothetically, these would be the only materials actually relevant to explaining how the ban was decided. Trump’s announcement notably contradicted everything found in the previous studies that led to the Obama administration ending the ban on trans military service.
So while these conservatives claim that that they’re somehow being persecuted by these subpoenas, they arguably have an ulterior motive for hiding their role in lobbying for the ban and then crafting it. Their interactions are the clearest proof that Trump’s ban is purely discriminatory and that he weighed no other considerations before implementing it — proof that will further doom the ban’s fate in court.