Attorney General Jeff Sessions continues to dismantle LGBT-inclusive policies enacted by the Obama administration — Sessions announced Thursday that the Justice Department would no longer construe a 53-year-old civil rights law to be inclusive of gender identity protections.
“Although federal law, including Title VII, provides various protections to transgender individuals, Title VII does not prohibit discrimination based on gender identity per se,” Sessions wrote in a memo to Justice Department officials, as reported by Buzzfeed. “This is a conclusion of law, not policy. As a law enforcement agency, the Department of Justice must interpret Title VII as written by Congress."
Title VII was part of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, which banned discrimination in employment, schools, and voter registration on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, and sex.
Obama's first attorney general — Eric Holder — released his own memo in 2014 that stated the Justice Department viewed Title VII's protections against sex discrimination as inclusive of gender identity, i.e., transgender individuals. Holder's action followed trans-inclusive court rulings as well as the position of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces discrimination bans in the workplace. Holder's directive was seen as an important advance for transgender individuals since there is no federal law banning employment discrimination against LGBT people.
Sessions has now reversed Holder's decision, which means the Justice Department will not support transgender people arguing that Title VII protects them against workplace discrimination.
"The Department of Justice memo on Title VII tries to undo established law protecting transgender employees simply by wishing it so," Kris Hayashi, executive director of Transgender Law Center, wrote in a statement.
"This is a vicious action intended to cause confusion where there was none, with the goal of singling out transgender people and making it harder for us to survive and thrive in this country. By methodically undermining civil rights law, the Department of Justice under Trump and Sessions has committed — and emboldened others to commit — violence and terror against immigrants, Muslims, LGBT people, Black people, and communities of color more broadly. This memo is yet another attack in that vein, with the agency charged with upholding the law now encouraging employers to illegally discriminate against transgender people.
"The Attorney General does not have the power to change clearly established law, only to enforce it. Transgender Law Center’s 2012 and 2015 cases on behalf of Mia Macy and Tamara Lusardi, along with extensive case law, firmly established that transgender workers are protected from discrimination under Title VII. Unlike the Attorney General, Transgender Law Center is committed to defending this country’s civil rights laws — and we will take him and this administration to court to do it."
This latest insult follows a steady stream of attacks against LGBT rights under the Trump administration. Within weeks of taking office, Sessions reversed Obama-era guidance on equal treatment of transgender students in schools that receive federal funding. The DOJ also wrote a brief supporting a Christian baker who refused to serve a gay person, and just last week argued in court that Title VII does not protect gay and bisexual people from workplace discrimination.
"This week, Jeff Sessions escalated the Trump administration's war on LGBTQ people," Democratic National Committee spokesman Joel Kasnetz said in a statement. "By reinterpreting our employment laws to try to stop protecting transgender people from discrimination, Donald Trump, Mike Pence, and Jeff Sessions have revealed their real goal — turn the clock back to a time when life was even more difficult for LGBTQ people, transgender individuals in particular.
"Fortunately, the courts have rebuked this bigotry and made clear that LGBTQ Americans have the right to be free from discrimination in the workplace. It’s time for Congress to do the same, because Attorney General Sessions can't be trusted to protect us or our civil rights. Democrats support the right of LGBTQ people to live and work without fear and demand Sessions stop using the Department of Justice to further this administration’s divisive agenda."