Trump’s War on LGBTQ People Has Reached the Courts

Tomorrow, the Senate continues with confirmation hearings for the first batch of Donald Trump’s nominees to the federal courts. True to his campaign promises, the President has put forth names drawn from the wish lists of right-wing organizations like the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society.

And despite his feeble attempts to portray himself as a friend of the LGBT community, Donald Trump has once again shown his true colors by nominating two individuals with records replete with anti-LGBT views and homophobic rhetoric of a bygone era.

As a result, this week, numerous allies joined Lambda Legal in calling on the Senate Judiciary Committee to reject the nominations of John K. Bush and Damien Schiff.

Let’s start with John K. Bush.

Mr. Bush is a 52-year-old litigation attorney from Louisville, Kentucky, nominated to serve as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

Although Mr. Bush doesn’t have any judicial experience, his writings illustrate his clear hostility towards the rights of LGBT people and everyone living with HIV. The way that Mr. Bush reads the Constitution, nothing stops the government from interfering with your freedom to decide who you love and how you build your family.

The autonomy to make these highly personal decisions — the right to define who you are free from government oppression — is the foundation of liberty, not only for the LGBT community, but also for any and all vulnerable populations who rely on the promise of equal rights under the law.

But that’s not how Mr. Bush sees it.

In fact, he has described the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing abortion as a “tragedy,” and compared it to the Supreme Court’s decision in Dred Scott treating slaves as property rather than as people.

The analogy is not just offensive — it is terrifying. Anyone who believes in a woman’s right to control her destiny by controlling her reproductive choices should be frightened by the prospect of a Judge Bush.

And we in the LGBT community know what that kind of worldview would mean for our rights as well. It would mean a return to an era of the marginalization of our identities, the ripping apart of our families and the erasure of our very existence. That is why we are making our voices heard and speaking out against Mr. Bush’s nomination.

Lest you think that we are overstating our case, Mr. Bush’s own words demonstrate just how little respect he has for the LGBT community. When was the last time you heard about a nominee for a lifetime appointment to the federal judiciary who thought it was acceptable to use the term “faggot” in a public address? Surprise! Mr. Bush is that person.

Now, we have no doubt that apologists for Mr. Bush will try to explain this away by suggesting that he was merely trying to be “provocative” by quoting the homophobic language of a beatnik author. But there is no explaining away Mr. Bush’s decision to use this deeply offensive word in a public speech. It indicates not only a stunning lack of judgment, but also a level of insensitivity to the experiences of LGBT people that should be disqualifying for anyone seeking the privilege of serving on the federal judiciary (and for the rest of his life, no less).

And it’s not as though this kind of inflammatory and offensive language was just a “one-off” for Mr. Bush. His record is riddled with sexist remarks about strong women like Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton, which give us some insight into how he would approach questions of gender equality. Even his court filings reveal a view of women steeped in anachronistic stereotypes about what women want and are capable of achieving if barriers to opportunity are eliminated.

Could it get any worse? I didn’t think so, until I learned about Damien Schiff.

Mr. Schiff is a 37-year-old attorney from Sacramento, California, nominated to serve as a judge on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. His nomination is equally frightening to the LGBT community, as his writings reveal an antipathy toward legal equality for LGBT people and other populations that depend on the federal judiciary.

We take this as a pointed and hostile threat.

Using even more direct language than Mr. Bush, Mr. Schiff has stated for the record his conviction that the Supreme Court had no basis for striking down laws criminalizing same-sex relationships. He “strongly disagrees” with Lawrence v. Texas, Lambda Legal’s landmark case striking down sodomy laws nationwide, because he “can find no historical or precedential basis, pre-1868” for recognizing gay people and relationships.

News flash: We are not living in 1868, and we are not going back.

Another item on Mr. Schiff’s list of “accomplishments” is his attempt to nullify the federal civil rights law prohibiting discrimination in education as applied to high schools. These protections have been critical to ensuring that LGBT and gender non-conforming students are able to have equal educational opportunity.

To reward Mr. Schiff for this attack on civil rights with a nomination to the federal bench demonstrates the extent to which this administration is completely out of touch with where we are as a country.

But wait, there’s more.

In a 2009 piece, Mr. Schiff criticized California public schools for teaching “that the homosexual lifestyle is a good, and that homosexual families are the moral equivalent of traditional heterosexual families.” Mr. Schiff reduces LGB people’s rights and dignity to a “lifestyle” and demonstrates a reckless disregard for any families that are not heterosexual.

Did the White House not get the memo that continuing to wage in this kind of culture war is a losing strategy? Apparently not as, at every turn, the defeated forces of the fundamentalist right are being placed in every nook and cranny of the administration. And now the courts are in the crosshairs.

John K. Bush and Damien Schiff pose serious hazards to the LGBT community, as well as many other communities which rely on the federal judiciary to be fair and impartial. Simply put, these are not the kinds of judges that this country wants, needs or deserves.

But if we do not make our voices heard now, we will need to brace ourselves for more of the same when it comes to federal court nominees. It is clear that many people held their noses last November in the hope that these kinds of nominees would take over the federal judiciary not just for the next four years, but for the next generation.

Many of us have taken comfort at the fact that, thus far, the federal courts have stopped some of the worst excesses of the Trump administration.

But the courts cannot protect us if we do not protect the courts.

That’s why we stand with 15 other national advocacy organizations representing the interests of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, everyone living with HIV, women and vulnerable communities, and oppose the nominations of John K. Bush and Damien Schiff.

Read our full letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee here.