A year ago today, many of us were in such despair we could barely get out of bed. Undoubtedly some of us didn’t get up at all the day after Donald Trump was declared president-elect. As bad as we felt, though, we probably didn’t realize just how bad things were going to get, especially for LGBT people, women, and people of color.
Trump’s presidency has been an unmitigated disaster for LGBT Americans and some in other countries as well. He’s undone most of the advances we saw under President Obama; at least he can’t undo marriage equality without a new Supreme Court ruling or a constitutional amendment. But he’s done plenty of damage nonetheless. Herewith, a list of the most egregious anti-LGBT actions by Trump and his administration.
The Transgender Military Ban
Trump tweeted July 26 that he was reinstating the ban on transgender people serving in the military, a ban that had been lifted by President Obama and Ash Carter, Obama’s last secretary of Defense. Trump claimed he had consulted with military leaders about reinstating the ban, but he apparently hadn’t – most were blindsided by it. If it stands, it will mean the discharge of an estimated 15,000 currently serving trans personnel, and that no openly trans person can ever enlist. But the good news is, it may not stand. Four lawsuits have been brought against it, and in the first one to get a hearing, a federal judge has blocked the ban while the case makes its way through the courts. It’s no time to be complacent, though; it’s a time to keep fighting, in the courts and in Congress. As Rachel Maddow says, watch this space.
Rescinding Guidelines on Treatment of Transgender Students
The guidelines, issued by Obama’s Education and Justice departments in 2016, weren’t binding, but they did warn schools throughout the U.S. that they could be in violation of federal law if they didn’t recognize trans students’ preferred names and pronouns, and allow them access to the restrooms and locker rooms matching their gender identity. Schools can still opt to have trans-friendly policies, but the chance that they will is lesser now that they don’t have the federal government recommending that they do so. The revocation, which came in February, quickly led the Supreme Court to decide against hearing a case brought by Virginia trans student Gavin Grimm against his school district. An appeals court had ruled in favor of Grimm, citing both the guidelines and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which forbids sex discrimination in public education. The high court, which was to hear the case in March, sent it back to the appellate court to be decided on the basis of Title IX alone.
That “Religious Freedom” Guidance
It was rumored for months that Trump would issue an executive order that would give federal agencies and contractors a license to discriminate against anyone who offended the religious sensibilities of a federal employee, the owner of a business with a government contract, and so forth. He didn’t do that, but he did the next worst thing: having Attorney General Jeff Sessions, one of the most anti-LGBT members of his administration, craft guidelines on how the federal government should handle those religious objections. When they came out in early October, they were just as egregious as expected. They assure federal grantees and contractors, and employees of federal agencies, that they don’t have to serve clients who pose a conflict with their religious beliefs — for instance, by being LGBT, a single parent, or a believer in a different religion. It also allows faith-based organizations to discriminate in employment without losing federal contracts or grants, and shapes the stance the federal government will take in court cases regarding discrimination. “This was meant to have a very deep and broad-reaching impact for people’s day-to-day lives,” said JoDee Winterhof, senior vice president for policy and political affairs at the Human Rights Campaign, the day the guidance was issued. The advice of Winterhof and other activists: Remember that anti-LGBT discrimination is still banned by many state and local laws, and sue if you’ve been the target of it.
Gutting Obama’s Antidiscrimination Order for Federal Contractors
Many observers thought Trump would revoke Obama’s executive order barring companies with federal contracts from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. He didn’t, but as with the “religious freedom” order, he did the next worst thing – he made it essentially unenforceable. When Obama issued his order in 2014, he issued a companion one requiring contractors to prove they’re in compliance with federal laws and executive orders. In March, Trump rescinded the latter order, making it extremely difficult to know if a company is engaging in discrimination. “It’s sending a message to these companies … that the federal government simply doesn’t care whether or not they violate the law,” said Camilla Taylor, senior counsel at Lambda Legal.
Taking a Stand for Anti-LGBT Discrimination
Under Obama, the Justice Department held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which banned sex discrimination, also applied to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Courts were still free to interpret the law, but this was at least a stance with the weight of the federal government behind it. Some courts and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have taken this stand as well The Trump administration, represented in legal matters by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has taken the opposite position. On July 26, the same day Trump announced he would reinstate the trans military ban, the Sessions-led Justice Department filed a friend-of-the-court brief in a still-pending discrimination case brought by a skydiving instructor who charged that his company fired him simply because he told a client he was gay. “The sole question here is whether, as a matter of law, Title VII reaches sexual orientation discrimination,” the department’s brief says. “It does not, as has been settled for decades. Any efforts to amend Title VII’s scope should be directed to Congress rather than the courts.” The Justice Department then made the same argument in a federal appeals court hearing on the case in September. In October, Sessions wrote a memo to Justice Department employees saying the department would also no longer construe Title VII as banning discrimination based on gender identity.
Those Horrible Judicial Nominees
Trump and his Cabinet are horrible for LGBT people, but at least they’ll be gone in a few years (sooner than that, we hope). But Supreme Court justices and other federal judges have life tenure and stand to make decisions that will affect us for a long, long time. Trump’s nominees here have been doozies. Neil Gorsuch, his pick to succeed the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, didn’t have as much of an anti-LGBT paper trail as some judges, although opposed marriage equality in his 2004 dissertation. In June, he had his first opportunity to rule on an LGBT issue, and he dissented from the majority’s ruling that same-sex parents should both automatically be listed on a child’s birth certificate, as opposite-sex parents are. So he may indeed be in the mold of Scalia, the type of justice that Trump promised to appoint. Then there are the horrid nominees for other federal courts, such as John K. Bush (no relation to the famous political family), confirmed by the Senate in July; he has criticized rulings that struck down antisodomy laws, objected to gender-neutral language on passport applications, and likened legal abortion to slavery. And the worst may be yet to come: Jeff Mateer, nominated in September to a federal court in Texas and awaiting Senate confirmation, has called transgender children part of “Satan’s plan,” supported so-called conversion therapy, and said marriage equality will lead to polygamy, bestiality, and people marrying inanimate objects.
But Wait, There's More
Those are the highlights, or lowlights of the Trump administration. But there are a lot more anti-LGBT actions we could list. In addition to Sessions, there have been other homophobes named to Cabinet positions, including Ben Carson as secretary of Housing and Urban Development and Rick Perry as secretary of Energy.
And let us not forget that Session’s ascension to attorney general left one of Alabama’s U.S. Senate seats vacant, and in a special election next month, it could be filled by an even worse homophobe, former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore. There’s deciding not to ask questions about sexual orientation and gender identity in the largest U.S. Census survey, meaning the government won’t get information that could help obtain funding for LGBT causes. There’s failing to speak out against the purge of gay and bisexual men in Chechnya. There are travel bans (the latest has been blocked by a court) that could prevent LGBT people in several countries from fleeing persecution. There are plans to remove antidiscrimination provisions from the Affordable Care Act, if the ACA isn’t repealed entirely.
Erasing us from the White House website was just the beginning, and the damage probably won’t end until the Trump administration does ― but we can hope that will come sooner rather than later.