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DOJ Files Brief Undermining Protections of Transgender Students

Jeff Sessions

The Department of Justice is backpedaling in its support of transgender people.

A day after Jeff Sessions was confirmed as attorney general, the department withdrew a request to partially halt an order against the Obama administration's protections for trans students, including their right to use restrooms and locker rooms that corresponded with their gender identity, reports the Washington Blade.

In August, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor blocked the trans-affirming education guidelines issued by the departments of Education and Justice last May. The George W. Bush-appointed judge argued that the Obama administration overextended its reach in issuing the guidance, which contended that current legal prohibitions on discrimination based on sex also extend to protection from discrimination based on gender identity.

The central statutes under debate are Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Both of those laws prohibit sex-based discrimination by agencies, employers, and schools — in the latter case, schools that receive federal funding.

In response to O'Connor's ruling, the DOJ initially submitted a request that the halt in the guidance's implementation only apply to the dozen states, led by Texas, who sought an injunction, instead of nationwide.

The three-page filing from the Trump administration, issued Friday, announced that the department was withdrawing this request and seeking to remove oral arguments, scheduled February 17, from the calendar. The request was granted by the Fifth Circuit.

“The parties are currently considering how best to proceed in this appeal," the brief concluded.

Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, condemned the move as "heartbreaking."

"After being on the job for less than 48 hours, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has signaled his intent to undermine the equal dignity of transgender students," Griffin said in a statement. "Transgender students are entitled to the full protection of the United States Constitution and our federal nondiscrimination laws."

"It is heartbreaking and wrong that the agency tasked with enforcing civil rights laws would instead work to subvert them for political interests. President Trump must immediately reverse course and direct the DOJ to uphold guidance protecting transgender students."

On January 31, amid rumors that President Trump might roll back LGBT protections, the White House issued a statement saying Trump would keep an order banning federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT people in hiring or firing.

“President Trump continues to be respectful and supportive of LGBTQ rights, just as he was throughout the election,” the statement read. “The president is proud to have been the first ever GOP nominee to mention the LGBTQ community in his nomination acceptance speech, pledging then to protect the community from violence and oppression.”

Sessions was confirmed Wednesday, despite outcry from civil rights leaders and Democratic senators like Elizabeth Warren, who was silenced for reading a letter from Coretta Scott King on the Senate floor that was criticial of his civil rights record.

During his confirmation hearings, Sessions said he would uphold the rights of all Americans, but LGBT and other civil rights groups are skeptical. Rachel B. Tiven, CEO of Lambda Legal, issued a statement calling his confirmation “a travesty.” “The chief lawyer of the United States is now someone who has devoted his whole life to obstructing civil rights,” she continued, adding, “I have personally seen him be rude and dismissive toward LGBT families.”

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