Jeff Sessions’ Justice Department Says It’s Legal To Discriminate Against LGBTQ+ People

by Hannah Rose

For those, like myself, that hoped the Trump administration was going to be too incompetent to actually reverse the social progress we’ve made over recent years, it’s been disappointing to see the administration, while still a circus, quickly chipping away at equal rights.

Yesterday, while Trump was tweeting that he no longer wanted transgender people in the military, the Justice Department (led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ shady ass) filed a brief at the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit arguing that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that “prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin” doesn’t include protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation. The Department stated, “The sole question here is whether, as a matter of law, Title VII reaches sexual orientation discrimination. 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.”

This contradicts the position of another federal agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which argues that the Civil Rights Act does protect LGBTQ+ workers. Advocates argue that discrimination against sexual orientation and gender identity stem from sex-based expectations. “For example,” Vox reported yesterday, “if someone discriminates against a gay man, that’s largely based on the expectation that a man should only love or have sex with a woman — a belief built on the idea of what a person of a certain sex should be like. Similarly, if someone discriminates against a trans woman, that’s largely based on the expectation that a person designated male at birth should identify as a man — again, a belief built on the idea of what a person of a certain sex assigned at birth should be like.” 

The lawsuit behind the case was filed by Donald Zarda, a skydiving instructor who claimed that his employer, Altitude Express, fired him due to his sexual orientation. Unfortunately, Zarda died in 2014 after a BASE jumping accident, but if Zarda’s argument were to prevail, “it would set new precedent in the circuit by overturning two cases from the 2000s. Further, it would give momentum to the argument as a general matter, given that in April the 7th Circuit ruled in favor of a lesbian who made the same claim,” Buzzfeed reported

Trump said on the campaign trail that he would be accepting of LGBTQ+ people — he waved a Pride flag at a campaign event, defended Caitlyn Jenner’s right to use the bathroom that aligned with her gender identity, and tweeted, “Thank you to the LGBT community! I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs.” Unsurprisingly, his administration has backtracked on this stance.

Earlier this year, the Trump administration reversed a guidance from the Obama administration that asked publicly-funded K-12 schools to respect and protect trans students’ rights, including using bathrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identity. It’s also unsurprising that Jeff Sessions’ Justice Department has issued this brief because Sessions has a history of enforcing discriminatory policies. GQ reported that “in the ’90s as attorney general of Alabama, [Sessions] fought to keep an LGBT group from being allowed to meet at the University of Alabama because they promoted ‘actions prohibited by the sodomy and sexual misconduct laws.’”

If Zarda loses its case, this will support the long-standing discriminatory practice of employers that fire people because they don’t approve of their sexual orientation and would help to extend this discrimination towards trans people as well. The backwards mindset of this administration is a threat to millions of LGBTQ+ Americans, whether they’re fighting for their jobs or fighting for our country.

And to follow-up with Trump’s tweet that transgender people will no longer be allowed in the military, partly because of the medical costs, GQ did some math. The Pentagon estimated that allowing transgender people into the military, including medical considerations, would cost between $2.4 and $8.4 million a year. On the high end of that estimate, allowing transgender people into the military would cost about the same as four of Trump’s weekend trips to Mar-a-Lago, which are estimated to cost taxpayers $2 million per trip. So, Donald Trump, give trans people equal rights, and chill the fuck out (somewhere besides Mar-a-Lago).

Photo: Gage Skidmore, Flickr Creative Commons 

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