The current administration has made it a priority to roll back the few advances that transgender people have made in civil rights, as if transgender rights are somehow a threat to conservative values. The most recent attack was a directive late last year to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to prohibit even mere mention of the word "transgender" when preparing its budget. The other banned words are reportedly: "vulnerable," "entitlement," "diversity," "fetus," "evidence-based" and "science-based."
The CDC news came on the heels of Attorney General Jeff Sessions's back-to-back memos in the previous months that threaten the freedom of hardworking citizens who deserve the same opportunity to hold a steady job, earn a living for themselves and their families, and live the American dream. First, Sessions announced that he would reverse the Department od Justices's previous interpretation that the federal Civil Rights Act protects transgender people from sex discrimination. One day later, he issued a memo that approved discrimination against transgender Americans under the guise of "religious liberty."
The DOJ then decided to embrace discrimination by supporting a case heard by the Supreme Court on December 5 involving a gay couple who were refused a wedding cake by a Colorado baker because of his religious opposition to marriage for same-sex couples. If the court sides with the baker and the administration, creating a religious exemption to nondiscrimination laws, it will open the door to widespread discrimination against transgender people not only at the bakery but in hospitals, workplaces, and government offices.
As the leader of a national organization whose mission involves helping transgender people live free from discrimination in education, employment, health care, and public accommodations, I see these moves as destructive of the liberty to which conservatism aspires. They dismantle the motivation to be self-sustaining, contributing members of society by erecting unnecessary roadblocks to success. They purport to align with conservative principles, but what is conservative about fostering divisions among Americans, destroying liberty and inhibiting prosperity?
The actions followed two other singularly troublesome decisions by the Trump administration last year that also singled out transgender people for prejudice. The federal government rescinded guidance to school administrators about how to address issues arising from the presence of transgender students in their schools. Later, President Trump announced via Twitter his intention to remove transgender fighting forces who have long served and continue to serve in our nation's military. Thankfully, federal courts have blocked enforcement of the trans military ban and enlistment was opened to qualified transgender recruits on January 1. But these are temporary victories for trans military personnel, as the federal government keeps up its fight to exclude trans troops.
What makes the Trump administration's biased policy decisions all the more baffling is that Attorney General Sessions sent a Justice Department attorney experienced in hate-crimes law to help prosecute the murderer of a transgender student in Iowa. It makes no sense to join the fight against anti-transgender violence while simultaneously working overtime to rescind protections, a move that will create the conditions of poverty, despair, and violence among the very individuals you profess to defend.
These discriminatory maneuvers are an affront to conservative values because they take away opportunities for transgender Americans to live freely and advance the achievements of our nation by adding their unique talents and contributions. To truly "Make America Great" as President Trump keeps saying, we must show all people the freedom and liberty to be who they are in service to our nation. Denying transgender people the same chance to get ahead and succeed diminishes who we are as a people. It guts the core conservative belief, set out in our U.S. Constitution, that all people deserve equal treatment under the law.
Republicans and moderates of all stripes are beginning to voice concerns about laws that target transgender people and the LGBTQ community as a whole. Fair-minded people see that allowing discrimination to flourish and making bias a cause celebre will harm the businesses that we rely on to run our economy. Encouraging employees to exclude transgender people from service will only bring about divisions, protests and boycotts.
Religious practices are already protected by the federal Civil Rights Act. The DOJ "religious liberty" memo, by contrast, turns that shield into a sword. Freedom without limits is an invasion on the rights of others. Many religious people have no issue with transgender people, and many transgender people are devoutly religious themselves. The truth is, according to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, that 94 percent of transgender people have reported that community faith leaders and members have accepted them for who they are as transgender persons, and more than three-quarters have been told their faith accepts them.
And as voters in Virginia, Minnesota, California, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Georgia, and Connecticut showed us -- in recently electing transgender candidates Danica Roem, Andrea Jenkins, Phillipe Cunningham, Lisa Middleton, Tyler Titus, Gerri Cannon, Stephe Koontz, and Raven Matherne -- good-hearted individuals are opening up and embracing the contributions of our transgender communities. It is time for the Trump administration to stop infringing on the freedom of trans Americans. Doing so will demonstrate a true commitment to conservative ideals.
JILLIAN WEISS is executive director of Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, an organization committed to ending transgender discrimination and to achieving equality for transgender people through impact litigation and education.