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With Trump and Sessions, States Offer Important Pathway to Equality


With an unpredictable federal administration, let's refocus our attention to fighting and winning in state legislatures.

It's hard to believe that President Donald Trump has been in office for nearly nine months -- and it's even harder to comprehend the way many of his policy upheavals are already taking a human toll on Americans all across our nation. Many communities are impacted right now, including LGBTQ Americans. And it's stunning how much has changed in such a short period of time.

On the campaign trail, candidate Trump once awkwardly waved a rainbow flag from a stage. His supporters told us we had nothing to worry about.

But reality has borne out a much more sobering and dangerous truth. Since taking office, President Trump has lorded over a systematic and ruthless effort to undermine the legal equality of LGBTQ Americans at the federal level. Led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the administration has rescinded non-binding guidelines meant to protect the well-being of transgender kids in our schools.

President Trump and AG Sessions have blithely decided to ignore legal precedent and re-interpret Title VII to exclude transgender Americans from vital workplace protections.

They've issued sweeping guidance that gives federal agencies, employees, and government contractors a license to discriminate against LGBTQ people.

And the president himself declared over Twitter early one morning that brave transgender service members would no longer be accepted into the military. That announcement, which apparently caught Secretary of Defense James Mattis by complete surprise, threw into question the fates of the estimated 15,000 transgender Americans currently serving our country.

It's easy for so many of us to feel defeated. When an administration so clearly demonstrates its commitment to denigrating the legal rights and human dignity of LGBTQ Americans, there are no quick policy solutions that will save the day.

But the fight for full equality has never been a short one -- and there are still many victories we can and will achieve, even as we defend the progress we've made at the federal level.

Despite recent rollbacks, the vast majority of government officials as well as a majority of the country is on our side. Nearly 70 percent of Americans -- including a majority of Republicans -- support a federal law that would comprehensively protect LGBTQ Americans from discrimination.

That public support is important, particularly as we focus on our most pressing fights. Right now, nearly six million LGBTQ Americans live and work across 32 states where there are no comprehensive, explicit state laws protecting them from discrimination. That's about the same number as the total population of people who live in seven states -- Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming -- all combined.

We can help the millions of vulnerable LGBTQ Americans, even in these troubling times. Our work to protect and advance equality in state legislatures is more important now than ever before. We're doubling down in the states to ensure folks are protected in every community they call home, and we won't stop fighting at the federal level or supporting our legal partners as they make the case in the courts, because working alongside these multiple tracks is the only way to achieve the goal of one comprehensive, LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination law. We must continue advancing efforts to protect as many people from discrimination as quickly as possible, and to build momentum for a federal law. And we're seeing results.

Just this past year in Texas, advocates banded together and successfully prevented lawmakers from passing shockingly mean-spirited legislation that would have made it illegal for transgender people to use most public restrooms. We stopped that discriminatory legislation during regular session, and then we defeated it all over again during a special session convened, primarily, to advance similarly anti-LGBTQ bills.

In New Hampshire -- the only state in the Northeast without a transgender nondiscrimination law -- we advanced a nondiscrimination bill out of committee for the first time with bipartisan support. We're hopeful that this year, we can go back and get the job done.

And in Massachusetts, where last year the state's Republican governor -- who is one of the most popular in the country -- endorsed and signed a law that explicitly protects transgender people from discrimination in public places, we're organizing to defend the law on the ballot next fall. Our coalition includes hundreds of Massachusetts businesses, conservatives, people of faith, and so many others who understand the importance of ensuring everyone is treated fairly and equally.

We can't control what President Trump will tweet tomorrow, or how Sessions will next seek to insidiously deny legal equality to LGBTQ people. But we can keep sharing our stories, building winning coalitions, and driving forward the urgency of nondiscrimination protections. We will continue to change hearts and minds and secure as many victories as we can right now. And that will give us the momentum we need to ultimately pass the federal, comprehensive nondiscrimination bill so many Americans already support. That may feel like a monumental task right now. But there's no better time than the present, when everyday Americans are rapidly becoming allies in our struggle and the government-sanctioned bias we face could not be any clearer, to dig in and make sure that day arrives sooner rather than later.

KASEY SUFFREDINI is the acting CEO of Freedom for All Americans, the national campaign to secure LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections.

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Kasey Suffredini