DOJ rescinds protections for transgender workers

Jersey City, NJ Transgender March on February 3 2017. Photo by B. Nick.
File photo: Jersey City, NJ Transgender March on February 3 2017. Photo by B. Nick.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a policy on Wednesday that reverses employment discrimination protections for transgender workers. The move reverses a policy in place under then-President Barack Obama.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibited any employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. Under former Attorney General Eric Holder, ‘sex’ discrimination was applied to gender identity. Sessions and the Department of Justice interpret it differently, taking ‘sex’ to be discrimination between men and women. The argument used is whether ‘sex’ is decided by the gender a person is born with and not their chosen gender.

“The Department of Justice cannot expand the law beyond what Congress has provided,” DOJ spokesperson Devin O’Malley said. Unfortunately, the last administration abandoned that fundamental principle, which necessitated today’s action. This Department remains committed to protecting the civil and constitutional rights of all individuals, and will continue to enforce the numerous laws that Congress has enacted that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.”

“This memo contradicts what is already established legal precedent,” said Stacey Long Simmons, Director of Advocacy and Action, National LGBTQ Task Force. “Courts across the country have agreed that sex protections include gender identity. The plain truth is that Attorney General Sessions is running the Justice Department with a clear anti-transgender bias — not current law.”

Session’s announcement comes after the DOJ weighed in on arguments that employers have a right to fire employees based on their sexual orientation. It’s also one more step in the erosion of LGBT rights that the current administration has taken say activists. It proves false the President’s proclaimed love of the LGBT community while on the campaign trail in 2016.

“Today marks another low point for a Department of Justice, which has been cruelly consistent in its hostility towards the LGBT community and in particular its inability to treat transgender people with basic dignity and respect,” James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s LGBT & HIV Project, said in a statement. “This Department of Justice under Jeff Sessions has time and time again made it clear that its explicit agenda is to attack and undermine the civil rights of our most vulnerable communities, rather than standing up for them as they should be doing. Discrimination against transgender people is sex discrimination, just as DOJ recognized years ago. We are confident that the courts will continue to agree and will reject the politically driven decision by Attorney General Sessions.”