Law student and veteran serves LGBTQ military community through fall externship, work on transgender ban lawsuit

by Sarah Carlson,

  • Third-year JD/MBA student Andy Blevins serves the LGBTQ military community through his work as an extern at OutServe-SLDN.
    Third-year JD/MBA student Andy Blevins serves the LGBTQ military community through his work as an extern at OutServe-SLDN.

Third-year JD/MBA student Andy Blevins’ first encounter with OutServe-SLDN occurred while he served in the military. From 2007-11, he was a cryptologic technician for the Navy.

“OutServe assisted me when I was being investigated for homosexuality while serving under the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ military law,” Blevins said. “The attorneys that I worked with brought me peace of mind and offered support during what I still regard as one of the scariest periods of my life.”Andy Blevins served on a panel at the OutServe conference earlier in 2017.

Years later, as Blevins studies for his joint degree at Willamette, he awaits a January 2019 graduation and full-time position with the largest nonprofit, legal services, and advocacy and policy organization specializing in bringing LGBTQ equality to the military. As a current extern, he works remotely to assist on administrative corrections, military discharges, name change corrections, and requests for identifying veteran benefits available to individuals. 

Blevins said telecommuting allows him to set his hours around his classes and activities, while still maintaining daily contact with his supervisors in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. Since those he assists are mainly military members serving on US bases around the world, workdays are never typical.

“When one of my clients stationed in Korea gets off duty and is finally in a safe place to talk, it is the middle of the night for me,” he explained. “But these servicemembers are selflessly dedicating their lives to protect this country under an administration that is effectively hostile toward their existence.

“I feel privileged to offer them any support, in the form of advocacy or legal services, that I can to help bring them peace of mind so they can continue carrying out the mission.”

A major project that Blevins has been involved with from the start is a lawsuit against President Trump’s administration in relation to his policies on transgender servicemembers. President Trump issued a policy memo August 25 instructing the Department of Defense (DoD) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to “return to the longstanding policy and practice on military service by transgender individuals that was in place prior to June 2016.” That policy did not allow transgender people to serve openly in the armed forces. The memo also gave two specific directives, one to continue prohibiting transgender individuals from joining the military and one to stop using DoD and DHS resources to fund medical treatment for gender transitions.

OutServe-SLDN, along with Lambda Legal, another nonprofit legal organization committed to achieving equality for LGBTQ people, filed the lawsuit August 28 in the Western District of Washington. Karnoski v. Trump challenges the constitutionality of President Trump’s directives. It was filed on behalf of six current military servicemembers, two individuals seeking to join the military, a law enforcement officer and three advocacy organizations. All of the individual plaintiffs are transgender.

“I have been lucky to be involved in the case from the very beginning, helping to conduct research, providing the team with insight on military life and service, and conducting client interviews and depositions,” Blevins said. “We also conduct litigation strategy calls at least once a week, which I feel privileged to take part in.”

Sasha Buchert JD’05 is a Willamette Law alumna and works on the case as a staff attorney on Lambda Legal’s team, collaborating with Blevins on the casework. She said she’s been impressed by his understanding of legal and policy issues and military policies and procedures.

“Andy clearly holds a serious commitment to serving LGBT servicemembers and veterans,” Buchert said. “I’m thrilled to serve on this team alongside Andy and thrilled that he is doing such great work while at Willamette Law.”

Buchert’s work on the case involves managing relationships with organizational plaintiffs, reviewing case filings and working to advance legislation that would reverse the ban. She said transgender servicemembers put their lives on the line to defend Americans’ freedom and deserve more.

“No one should be discriminated against because of their gender identity. People should be judged based on their qualifications, not whether they are transgender,” Buchert explained. “If a transgender servicemember can shoot straight, do the required number of pull-ups and otherwise are fit for duty, they should be able to serve openly without fear of discrimination.”

Kai Blevins and Felipe Rendón gave a presentation at the OutServe conference earlier in 2017.Two other Willamette Law students also work with OutServe-SLDN — third-year JD student Felipe Rendón, the husband of an Air Force veteran, and MLS candidate Kai Blevins, an Army veteran (and the spouse of Andy Blevins). They see their work as an opportunity to support and honor those in the military community who endure difficulties and discrimination.

Both are proud of the work they’ve done with the organization — though they say there is still much work to do.

Karnoski v. Trump remains open pending litigation. In a separate case, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled October 30 that the general policy in the Trump administration’s memo — to return to the transgender policy in place before June 2016 and forbid transgender individuals from enlisting — cannot be enforced while the case is under review. The judge did not block the part of the memo that bans using federal resources to fund medical treatment for gender transitions.

Blevins will continue to work with OutServe on the case and will become director of legal operations and policy following his graduation.

“Folks often say that there is no greater opportunity in life than to selflessly serve this nation,” he said. “I would have to disagree — there is no greater opportunity in life than to serve those who selflessly protect our nation and its people.”

About Willamette University College of Law

Opened in 1883, Willamette University College of Law is the first law school in the Pacific Northwest. The college has a long tradition at the forefront of legal education and is committed to the advancement of knowledge through excellent teaching, scholarship and mentorship. Leading faculty, thriving externship and clinical law programs, ample practical skills courses and a proactive career placement office prepare Willamette law students for today's legal job market. According to statistics compiled by the American Bar Association, Willamette ranks first in the Pacific Northwest for job placement for full-time, long-term, JD-preferred/JD-required jobs for the class of 2014 and first in Oregon for the classes of 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015. Located across the street from the state capitol complex and the Oregon Supreme Court, the college specializes in law and government, law and business, and dispute resolution.

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