Two years ago, the Family Research Council — an evangelical Christian organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center designates an anti-LGBT hate group — published a road map laying out a plan to morally legislate the American transgender community out of existence.
Today, the FRC has unprecedented access to the White House, according to the group’s president, Tony Perkins, who told The New York Times, “I’ve been to the White House I don’t know how many more times in the first six months this year than I was during the entire Bush administration.”
Evangelical leaders have associated and aligned with the FRC, and routinely pray in the Oval Office over President Trump. Together, they are some of his closest allies and are taking full advantage of the close relationship, which is resulting in an unprecedented regression of LGBT rights.
As The New York Times reports, Perkins “pressed Mr. Trump for months to make the statement he issued… saying transgender people would be barred from the military.”
Heidi Beirich, the intelligence project director of the SPLC described the situation to the Washington Blade: “If anybody is winning big-ly from Trump’s policies, it’s these folks [FRC]. It’s the anti-LGBT hate groups and their various allies among conservatives.”
To get a sense of their ultimate goal, one need only look at what is known as the “Nashville Statement.” This August, five members of Trump’s evangelical executive advisory board, including FRC founder James Dobson, joined 145 other evangelical leaders in signing a statement condemning “homosexual immorality” and “transgenderism” and claiming, among other things, that “adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is [not] consistent with God’s holy purposes,” and that anyone who “approves” of LGBT people cannot call themselves Christian.
If ever the FRC had a chance to drive queer people out of public life, this is it. Under the leadership of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Department of Justice has been actively trying to strip the LGBT community of legal protections. In a few short weeks this fall, the DOJ has argued in favor of Trump’s ban of transgender people in the military, claimed (despite court rulings to the contrary) that trans people are not protected from workplace discrimination based on “sex” in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and produced two memos revealing how the DOJ intends to interpret the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to essentially allow anyone anywhere to discriminate for almost any religious reason.
The first memo, “Federal Law Protections for Religious Liberty,” is guidance directed at “all executive departments and agencies,” and it outlines 20 principles of religious liberty, asserting not only that religious liberty is a “fundamental right of paramount importance,” but that “free exercise of religion includes the right to act or abstain from action in accordance with one’s religious beliefs,” and that this right extends to both “persons and organizations” (including companies). The second memo, “Implementation of Memorandum on Federal Law Protections for Religious Liberty,” directs all DOJ attorneys to “adhere to the interpretative guidance set forth” in the first one.
While LGBT people aren’t specifically mentioned, the message of these two memos is clear: the DOJ will do nothing to stop anti-LGBT discrimination, and will do everything it can to allow it under the auspices of “religious freedom.” The potential fallout from this is myriad and devastating.
If a Catholic hospital refuses to treat an LGBT person, refuses a same-sex spouse’s right to make medical decisions, or won’t allow a transgender person to receive hormone treatments, it would probably be protected per the DOJ. This is a significant problem, because in many parts of the country, religious hospitals are the only ones available for hours in any direction. According to a 2016 MergerWatch and American Civil Liberties Union report, one in every six hospital beds in the U.S. are in institutions owned by the Catholic Church. In one example of how that religious affiliation interferes with patients’s medical care, The Washington Post reported that doctors “said they saw patients become gravely ill when hospitals refused to terminate their nonviable pregnancies, causing infection to set in.”
California now requires public schools to teach about the contributions of LGBT Americans, but if religious-minded parents filed a RFRA claim in objection, the DOJ has indicated it would likely support the parents over the school. Employers are given nearly a blank check to discriminate, as the language states, “Religious employers are entitled to employ only persons whose beliefs and conduct are consistent with the employers’s religious precepts.”
Government employees could refuse to issue same-sex marriage licenses, or provide new identification documents to transgender individuals and there appears to be no caveat that says someone else needs to step in and complete those bureaucratic actions halted over religious objections. What if a federal employee stated that it violates his religious beliefs to tolerate working in the same building as an LGBT person? The DOJ has indicated that it would likely support such a claim, which could effectively clear LGBT people out of federal service if it were upheld by federal courts.
While federal courts have ruled for LGBT rights in the past, Trump is stacking the bench with conservative judges who seem eager to explore the legal limits of religious freedom. The FRC has already laid out its plans for filling Supreme Court openings and are eagerly awaiting the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy (likely next summer), who will almost certainly be replaced by another intellectual clone of Neil Gorsuch (what FRC calls a “conservative-originalist”). For those who have forgotten, Gorsuch believes that the mere act of signing a piece of paper waiving the ACA requirement to provide birth control is an intolerable burden on an individual or organization’s religious liberty. The damage that can and will likely be done by a court full of Gorsuches is limited only by minds of the 3,000 lawyers doing pro bono work for the Alliance Defending Freedom.
SPLC describes the ADF as an anti-LGBT hate group and a legal advocacy and training organization that “has supported the recriminalization of homosexuality in the U.S. and criminalization abroad; has defended state-sanctioned sterilization of trans people abroad; has linked homosexuality to pedophilia and claims that a ‘homosexual agenda’ will destroy Christianity and society. ADF also works to develop ‘religious liberty’ legislation and case law that will allow the denial of goods and services to LGBT people on the basis of religion.”
In the long run, the goal of the FRC and ADF — and their supporters in the administration — is to drive LGBT people back into the closet through legalized, protected, crowd-sourced intimidation and discrimination. If you create a society where coming out means legal peril, workplace and housing discrimination, almost certain financial doom, and being treated like a second-class citizen for the rest of your life, many of those who can stay in the closet will.
If there is a glimmer of hope, it is that we have been here before — and that many LGBT people of color and undocumented immigrant status face these conditions and discriminations on a daily basis and continue not only to survive but to fight back.