Anyone can watch a video of President Donald Trump waving a pro-LGBTQ+ flag at a Colorado rally in October 2016; however, waving a rainbow flag for a photo op and following through on your word to uphold LGBTQ+ rights are two very different things.
The first sign that the Trump’s administration would break their promise to protect LGBTQ+ rights occurred on Trump’s inauguration day on Jan. 20 in 2017; the marked the beginning of four years of continuous attacks on the rights of LGBTQ+ people. On the first day on the job, the Trump administration removed any mention of the LGBTQ+ community from the websites of the White House, the Department of State, and the Department of Labor.
In 2017 alone, the federal government committed approximately 30 discriminatory actions against LGBTQ+ people resulting in harmful effects, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality. The State Department, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), and the Justice Department (JD) make up most of the different federal offices that are the cause of the discrimination. The Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department Education are also among the federal offices responsible for filing these discriminatory actions. In July of 2017, the JD argued that the 1964 Civil Rights Act did not prohibit discrimination based on implied gender identity or sexual orientation in a legal brief filed on behalf of the United States in the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Second Circuit. In late July, Trump tweeted that the “United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.” A month later the Trump administration followed through on its announcement when the President directed the Defense Department to start developing a plan to put a ban in place on recruiting transgender Americans into the military and discharge members who are transgender.
Fifteen similar legal actions took place in 2018, many of them using “religious freedom” as a way to deny LGBTQ+ people of basic rights. To start off the year, in January the Department of Human and Health Services Office of Civil Rights started a “Conscience and Religious Freedom Division” allowing health care providers to discriminate by citing religious or moral reasons to deny health care. The same department then proposed a rule that medical providers could deny treatment to transgender people, as well as people who need reproductive care, based on religious grounds. Later in October, the DHHS proposed to change the legal definition of sex under Title IX which would leave transgender people unprotected from discrimination.
The Department of Education agreed with the Trump administration’s plan to prohibit transgender students from using locker rooms and bathrooms based on their identity. This contradicts numerous court rulings that have proved time and time again that transgender students are protected under Title IX. The same department announced that complaints made by transgender students regarding exclusion from school facilities, along with other claims based on gender identity discrimination, will now be dismissed.
In October, the JD challenged the law claiming that it’s legal to discriminate against transgender employees in a brief submitted to the Supreme Court. In the same month, American representatives at the United Nations attempted to remove references to transgender people in U.N. human rights documents. To close out the year, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management removed vital guidelines that helped federal agency managers better understand how to support transgender federal workers and respect their rights.
2019 was a big year for discriminatory acts aimed at the LGBTQ+ community with a total of 17 attempted policies that aimed to narrow the rights of LGBTQ+ people. In January, the DHHS Office of Civil Rights continued with its plan of using religious grounds to discriminate against the LGBTQ+ community by granting exemptions for foster care and adoption agencies in South Carolina to allow religiously-affiliated services to discriminate against hopeful LGBTQ+ caregivers. In April, the Department of Defense officially put Trump’s ban on transgender service members in the military into effect. This puts service members at risk of discharge if they come out or are found out to be transgender. Americans who wish to fight for their country who happen to be transgender are left with two options: hide a part of themselves in order to fight for a country that wants to conceal their true identity or show that they are proud of who they are and get kicked out of the military for it. Great job, America.
The DHHS produced a final rule encouraging insurance companies, hospital offices, and staff to turn away patients, including transgender patients, and deny them care based on religious or moral beliefs. People immediately challenged this in court. In May, Trump announced that he was not in favor of the Equality Act, which would have reaffirmed and strengthened civil rights protections for LGBTQ+ Americans, as well as other minorities. In July, the State Department put together a “Commission on Unalienable Rights” aimed at narrowing the country’s human rights advocacy to fit into the “natural law and rights” views of social conservatives. Not long after the establishment of this new commission, the State Department fired the official in charge of this task force for abusive management that included homophobic remarks. Just peachy.
In September, the DHHS removed a plan that distinctly prohibits hospitals from discriminating against LGBTQ+ patients as a requirement for Medicare and Medicaid funds. For the month of November, the Department of Education announced final regulations allowing religious schools to ignore nondiscrimination standards set by accrediting agencies, which is a state-controlled or privately supported agency authorized to grant accreditation to educational institutions. The DHHS then announced it would no longer enforce regulations prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity and orientation as well as religion in HHS grant programs.
The year 2020 began with nine federal agencies proposing rule changes that would encourage agencies to use religious exemptions as a way to deny help to certain people, all while receiving federal funds. In the Western District of Kentucky, the DJ filed a court brief representing the United States while claiming that anti-LGBTQ discrimination is not “a sufficient government interest” to surmount the objections of private businesses who want to deny human services. The brief also argued that these businesses should be able to legally ignore local nondiscrimination laws. The DJ filed another court brief opposing a Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference policy that permits transgender athletes to play sports with their fellow students.
In May, the Department of Education sent a letter declaring that the federal Title IX rule requires schools to inhibit transgender students from participating in school sports. The letter also threatened to withhold funding from Connecticut schools if they do not abide by this rule. More recent discriminatory acts include the Trump administration appealing a ruling that a gay couple’s daughter, who was born in Canada, is an American citizen, claiming that the couple’s marriage is not enough to make their daughter a United States citizen. The couple, Roee and Adiel Kiviti, are both American citizens, which helps fill the requirements for their baby daughter, Kessem Kiviti, to be considered a U.S. citizen under U.S. law.
Kessem Kiviti was carried by a surrogate mother and born in Canada. Federal courts ruled that Kiviti, whose parents are both U.S. citizens, meets all the qualifications to become a U.S. citizen herself. The State Department claims that Adiel, who became a citizen in 2019, did not satisfy the five-year residency requirement to be considered a US citizen, but the U.S. District judge rejected the State Departments reasoning in June. The Trump Administration has been challenging similar rulings in their attack on same-sex couples. Members of the team that currently represents the couple in court claim that the government’s actions to take Kessem Kiviti’s citizenship from her is “unconstitutional, discriminatory, and morally reprehensible.”
The most recent attack on LGBT+ peoples’ rights comes with Trump’s recent Supreme Court nomination of right-leaning judge Amy Coney Barrett after the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Barrett is widely known to have a conservative interpretation of the law, she is fairly young, and she will most likely serve for a long time if she is approved by the Senate. The decisions she makes while serving as a Supreme Court Justice will have a major impact on the future of this generation. If she is approved, it will be a five to four conservative court. Barrett has publicly questioned the Court’s landmark ruling on marriage equality. The Human Rights Campaign, America’s largest LGBTQ+ civil rights organization, opposes Barrett for the Supreme Court since she poses a threat to multiple of society’s most victimized groups including members of the LGBTQ+ community.
When it comes to following through on his claim to support the LGBT+ people, the president does not know where to begin. However, when he tweets his desire to place a discriminatory ban on transgender people from serving in the military due to “medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail,” he strives to put that tweet into legal action. Instead of taking steps to move human rights forward in America, the Trump administration has only taken leaps backwards as a result of prioritizing discrimination.
(Sources: National Center for Transgender Equality, LGBTQ Nation, New York Times, The Atlantic, Boston Globe, Vox, Human Rights Campaign)
To see a full list of multiple federal departments proposing and enforcing discriminatory policies, rules, and acts, click here.