The Trump Administration’s Continuing Campaign Against Transgender People
by Harper Jean Tobin, Director of Policy
The Trump administration’s latest attack on transgender people exploded into the headlines last week, when President Trump tweeted a virtual pink slip to thousands of military service members. Thankfully, transgender troops are not being drummed out yet, as Pentagon leaders wait for instructions slightly more formal than a Twitter screed. Still, the President’s ban announcement means every transgender service member, together with their unit members and commanders, face each day uncertain of what will become of them and their military careers.
The attack on transgender troops is just the latest and most high-profile in the Trump administration’s wide-ranging effort to roll back the civil rights of transgender people, along with other marginalized communities. Every new attack has made it clearer that candidate Trump’s promises to respect and support LGBTQ Americans were lies.
President Trump’s continued appointments of people with cruel anti-transgender records also make it clear that his campaign promises were hollow. These appointments include:
- Nominee for U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, who, in his role as Governor of Kansas, has acted to legalize discrimination against LGBTQ students and LGBTQ state workers
- Newly-confirmed district court judge John Bush, now perhaps best known for his homophobic blog posts
- Senior Advisor for the USAID Office of Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Bethany Kozma, who has a long record of anti-transgender activism
- HHS Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Charmaine Yoest, who has repeatedly called transgender people “crazy,” used anti-transgender slurs, and said parents should worry about having transgender people around their children
(Fortunately, in May, Tennessee state lawmaker Mark Green withdrew his nomination for Secretary of the Army in the face of fierce criticism for calling transgender people “diseased,” “immoral,” and “evil,” and saying that Muslims “don’t belong” in the United States.)
Ever since the Trump administration withdrew lifesaving guidance on the rights of transgender students in February, there has been a steady stream of actions large and small seeking to undermine equality for transgender people:
- In March, the Department of Housing and Urban Development pulled back policies aimed at addressing LGBT homelessness and removed resources on serving transgender people in homeless shelters from its website.
- In April, the Justice Department dropped its historic challenge to North Carolina’s anti-transgender HB 2 when it was replaced with a still-discriminatory “HB 2.0.” (LGBTQ North Carolinians are still in court challenging the new law.)
- In May, the Trump administration announced a plan to roll back the historic regulations implementing the Affordable Care Act’s nondiscrimination provision. With last week’s stunning victory in the Senate against ACA repeal, Secretary for Health and Human Services Tom Price is doubling down on efforts to weaken the ACA by rolling back critical implementing rules such as those on nondiscrimination protections.
- In June, the Department of Education continued its retreat from enforcing federal Title IX law to protect transgender students. In a highly unusual move, the Department withdrew its finding that an Ohio school district discriminated against a transgender girl. The Department gave no explanation for withdrawing the finding, which had been upheld by a federal judge.
- In July, Education Department officials also signaled they are considering rolling back remaining guidance recognizing protections for transgender and other students against sexual harassment and violence in schools.
Then, last week, we woke up to President Trump’s Twitter tirade trashing transgender troops. Civil rights advocates were swiftly joined in condemning the move by Republicans and Democrats in Congress, governors and state attorneys general, celebrities, foreign militaries, and former military leaders. Any effort to implement a purge of transgender troops is also sure to face numerous challenges in court.
But a day that began with a very un-presidential presidential attack on transgender people also ended with yet another attack from the Department of Justice. In a completely gratuitous show of official hostility, DOJ filed a brief with a federal appeals court in New York arguing that federal civil rights laws offer no protection for lesbian, gay, and bisexual people in the workplace.
It was a highly unusual move that opposed recent rulings by another appeals court and by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). While arguments in this specific case involved sexual orientation discrimination, the DOJ’s sweeping legal arguments — which distort Supreme Court precedents and ignore two decades of decisions from the lower courts — would also likely rule out recognizing discrimination claims by transgender people, as most courts have for nearly two decades.
We will keep watching, and keep pushing back.
While it is the courts, not the Trump administration, who decide what the law is, this “Discrimination Administration” sows confusion and promotes discrimination through its efforts to roll back the interpretation and enforcement of civil rights law.
Last week’s health care victory reminds us that resistance can work. We will keep watching, and — together with transgender people and their loved ones, and other communities facing similar attacks — keep pushing back.