Great Leap Back: Three Hard Hits to L.G.B.T. Rights
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – Wednesday, July 26, 2017, marks the Trump administration’s new assault on the L.G.B.T. community. In three separate actions, President Trump has used the powers of the federal government to roll back civil rights for gay and transgender people.
First, President Trump announced via Twitter a ban on active-duty transgender service members from serving in the military. In his series of tweets, Trump explained that the military will “not accept or allow” transgender individuals to serve “in any capacity” in the U.S. military. Trump’s Tweet explained that American forces could not afford the “tremendous medical costs and disruption” of transgender service members.
This was a move that surprised top military leaders across all four service branches and congressional leaders. Trump’s own defense secretary, Jim Mattis, was only given one day’s notice about the decision. Moreover, the new policy reverses the Obama administration’s decision to allow such members to serve openly. Current estimates of the number of transgender service members range from 1,300 to about 16,000.
War hero and Republican leader John McCain, responded to Trump’s gender discriminatory policy by stating: “The President’s tweet … regarding transgender Americans in the military is yet another example of why major policy announcements should not be made via Twitter. … There is no reason to force service members who are able to fight, train, and deploy to leave the military — regardless of their gender identity. We should all be guided by the principle that any American who wants to serve our country and is able to meet the standards should have the opportunity to do so — and should be treated as the patriots they are.”
Later that day, President Trump announced that he would nominate Sam Brownback, the governor of Kansas and a vocal opponent of gay rights, to lead State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom. While governor, Brownback enacted into law new abortion restrictions, controversial welfare reforms and an aggressive tax-cutting strategy. Although Brownback entered office with more than 60 percent of the vote, he is now one of the least popular governors in the nation.
Equality Kansas, the state’s leading LGBT rights group that has repeatedly clashed with Brownback on the issue of religious freedom. “Governor Brownback is unsuited to represent American values of freedom, liberty and justice, whether at home or abroad,” said Tom Witt, executive director for Equality Kansas. Witt believes Brownback to use religious discrimination as a weapon, stating: “His use of religion is little different than that of a bully wielding a club. His goal is not to use religion as a way to expand freedom, but to use a narrow, bigoted interpretation of religion to deny freedom to his fellow citizens.”
Third, without being asked, the Justice Department filed a brief with a federal appeals court in response to the case Zarda v. Altitude Express that arguing the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not protect employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation. It is somewhat unusual for the Justice Department to weigh in on private employment lawsuits like this, but if Zarda’s estate was to win it would set a stronger precedent for including sexual orientation under Title VII protections.
“The sole question here is whether, as a matter of law, Title VII reaches sexual orientation discrimination,” the Justice Department said in a friend-of-the-court brief, citing the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bars discrimination in the workplace based on “race, color, religion, sex or national origin.” “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 US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is openly clashing with the Justice Department on this issue, as it interprets the law to ban discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation.
Also unusual, the brief states that the law does not protect “homosexuals” from discrimination. Not only does this mean stepping back from the progress reached under President Barack Obama, but this the Department of Justice’s use of the term “homosexuals” is itself a throwback to a time when anti-LGBT discrimination was acceptable.
Currently, 20 states now have laws banning discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. Isn’t it time for the federal government to do the same, or at the very least, not relapse?
If you feel you have been the victim of workplace discrimination or sexual harassment in New York City, Miami, New Jersey or Philadelphia or if your employment rights have been violated, call us at 800-807-2209 for a free consultation. Our attorneys are available to review your claims and prepare a solid case to recover the damages and justice you deserved.
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