The promise was abundantly clear on the campaign trail, something Donald Trump was adamant about: he would not touch nor repeal protections put in place on behalf of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender community.
With one stroke of the pen, he broke that promise by rescinding federal protections for transgender citizens put in place by President Barack Obama nearly one year ago. Then, a joint letter issued by the Department of Justice and the Department of Education gave guidance to schools in putting protections in place for transgender students to use the restrooms of their identified gender, not the one on their birth certificate.
The letter used Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972, which prohibits discrimination based on sex in schools that receive federal funding. Now, in another joint letter, the same departments rolled back that guidance, calling the initial order improper and “without due regard for the primary role of the states and local school districts in establishing educational policy.”
In another departure from that campaign trail promise, the Department of Justice withdrew from a fight against a national injunction that blocked the federal government from giving guidance to schools in regards to transgender students. The move sparked outrage among conservative transgender men and women, most notably Caitlyn Jenner, who is an avowed Republican and a Trump supporter from the start.
Jenner was on record in June as saying, “He seems very much behind the LGBT community.” Her tune was much different in a Tweet posted on February 23. It read: “Well @realDonaldTrump, from one Republican to another, this is a disaster. You made a promise to protect the LGBTQ community. Call me.”
“I can already see it now, a lot of our LGBTQ members rolling their eyes, but I wanted to believe him,” Jordan Evans of Massachusetts, a transgender Trump supporter, said in February at the Conservative Political Action Conference. “I felt terrible about it. Put a pit in my stomach. Two hundred thousand Americans, two hundred thousand trans kids were told that you’re other, that you’re foreign, you’re alien. When the President did this, on Attorney General Sessions’ behalf, or whoever’s behalf, that cut to my soul as a conservative, because that goes against our principles of personal liberty and freedom and determining your own destiny.”
Though protections for LGBT federal employees and contractors remain in place, the recent moves by the Trump administration potentially signal a dangerous trend of allowing states to set their own laws and mandates regarding those citizens. North Carolina has been one of the most controversial, passing laws that repealed anti-discrimination protections and headed up the list of states to enact a so-called ‘bathroom law’ requiring citizens to use the restrooms of the gender they were born with, not the gender they identify as. The move set off a firestorm of controversy at the time, with major commercial entities such as Apple, Google, the NFL, and the NCAA refusing to do business with the southern state. The state has refused to budge on the issue in spite of lost jobs and revenue. South Dakota, whose governor vetoed a ‘bathroom law’ last year has said it will reconsider a similar bill this year. Texas is also considering legislation that would require transgender citizens to use bathrooms based on biological not identified gender in public schools and colleges.
For transgender Americans, it’s not just about using public bathrooms. It’s about not being isolated or treated as being different from their peers. It’s about being treated as an equal and with dignity, something that is taken away by archaic beliefs and feelings. For transgender youth, it’s about feeling safe in their schools, to feel as if they belong with their peers. If they are to use bathrooms and other public spaces, such as locker rooms, of a gender they do not identify with, their chances of facing adversity and violent bullying increase greatly. In a study published by Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in August of last year, it was found that 30 percent of transgender youth reported at least one suicide attempt, with another 42 percent having a history of self-harm.
“Our study provides further evidence for the at-risk nature of transgender youth and emphasizes that mental health providers and physicians working with this population need to be aware of these challenges,” says Claire Peterson, PhD, a psychologist at Cincinnati Children’s and lead author of the study. “Dissatisfaction with one’s appearance and the drive to look different from one’s sex assigned at birth is central to gender dysphoria — the feeling that your gender identity is different from that at birth.”
“It’s adults like those in the Trump administration who don’t realize the consequences of pitting young people against one another, which encourages some to be bullies and turns others into sinister objects,” transgender activist Janet Mock wrote in an Op-Ed for the New York Times. Mock was forced to use a single stall bathroom in her high school nurse’s office instead of the girls’ room like her friends. “By overturning this nondiscrimination protection, the Trump administration claims it’s protecting children, not from bullies or menacing adults, but from their own peers. This infuriates me. I know how messy things can get when adults overstep their boundaries and insert themselves, their politics, their fears, their prejudices, and their ignorance into the lives of young people.”
With the Trump administration seemingly poised to let the states police themselves, the transgender community is at the highest risk for backlash. Numbers shared by the Human Rights Campaign show 21 deaths of transgender in 2015, the most ever recorded. There were 22 in 2016 and so far in 2017, there have been at least seven transgender citizens murdered. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, more than one in four transgender people has faced some kind of bias-driven assault, higher amongst trans women and trans people of color.
While Trump has said he won’t touch the rights and protections of the LGBT community, his unwillingness to stop discrimination at the state level is just as dangerous and harmful, especially to those already at high risk within the LGBT community.
“Donald Trump’s address to Congress vividly illustrates just how out of touch he is with the reality of people’s lives. In his world, everything he does is ‘great;’ when the reality is that his policies are causing pain, suffering, and uncertainty for millions, and most often for the most vulnerable. In just 40 days, he aggressively used his executive powers to demonize and dehumanize immigrants, Muslims, and trans youth — and he’s just getting started. One thing that is certain, though, is that every time he opens his mouth, more people want to join the resistance movement against his extremism,” said Rea Carey, Executive Director of the National LGBTQ Task Force.