Since Donald Trump took the oath of office on January 20, the White House has taken aim at various groups. It took on Muslims, targeting a travel ban at them as Trump taunted world leaders coping with terrorism. It went after women’s rights, seeking to limit abortions and birth control in the US and worldwide, and weakened rules designed to enforce equal pay by employers.
One of the administration’s most concerted campaigns, though, is turning out to be against the US’s 10 million lesbian, gay, and transsexual citizens.
The latest move came this week, when US attorney general Jeff Sessions reversed an Obama-era policy protecting transgender people from workplace discrimination. His Justice Department (DOJ), he said, will no longer treat Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act—which bans discrimination on the basis of sex—as covering transgender people. “Title VII does not prohibit discrimination based on gender identity per se,” Sessions wrote to US attorneys across the country in a memo obtained by BuzzFeed.
It’s not clear what impact this change will have. It means the DOJ won’t take the side of transgender people in Title VII lawsuits—but the government’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission still does, and the EEOC website lists a string of cases in which federal courts have agreed. The DOJ’s new stance “conflicts with years of interpretation from both the U.S. Supreme Court and federal circuit courts,” Human Rights Watch’s legal director, Sarah Warbelow, said in a statement.
It’s also not clear where the policy is emanating from. Trump himself hasn’t generally expressed the animus towards LGBT people that he’s shown for Mexicans, Muslims, and women, and sometimes quite the opposite—promising, for instance, to protect the community after a gunman killed 49 people in a Florida nightclub during his election campaign. But Sessions and vice president Mike Pence are strongly conservative Christians, and the administration has taken several anti-LGBT measures.
In March, the department of Health and Human Services stopped including a question about sexual orientation on an annual survey about its services to the elderly, and the Census Bureau appeared to shelve a plan to start including sexual orientation in the upcoming 2020 census. In June, the White House failed to acknowledge Gay Pride month, and nominated an anti-gay lawyer to be a federal judge.
With a tweet in July, Trump announced that he’d halt his predecessor’s plan to start recruiting openly transgender troops. (He left the military the choice not to discharge those who are already serving, and so far it seems to be following that policy.) In September, the DOJ sided with a baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a marriage between two men, in a court case that civil-rights activists worry could open the door for many businesses not to serve gay customers.
In September, both Trump and Pence tweeted their support for Roy Moore, the newly nominated Republican candidate for senator from Alabama, who said in 2005 that “homosexual conduct should be illegal.” Moore “sounds like a really great guy,” Trump wrote, while Pence said he was “thrilled” Moore was nominated.
The White House said later that Trump doesn’t agree (paywall) with Moore’s position on homosexuality, but that’s hard to tell from the administration’s actions.