The Trump administration has been awful for the rights of gay, lesbian and transgender individuals. This is in sharp contrast to Donald Trump’s rhetoric as a candidate when he promised to be a “real friend” to the gay community and spoke of protecting the ability of people to “love who they want to and express their identity.”
The same man who declared, “I will fight for you,” now is going out of his way to undermine the rights of LGBT individuals. On July 26, President Donald Trump tweeted that transgender individuals would not be allowed to serve in the military. If this becomes policy, it will reverse Barack Obama’s decision from a year earlier. Trump’s tweet apparently caught military officials by surprise.
No apparent problems had arisen from allowing transgender individuals to be part of the military. In fact, a 2016 study by the Rand Corp., commissioned by the Defense Department, concluded that allowing transgender individuals to serve in the military would have “minimal impact on readiness and health care costs.” The study estimated that there are between 2,000 and 11,000 transgender individuals in military service, a number that likely would increase if the Obama policy remains in effect.
Why has Trump so dramatically departed from his campaign promises? This seems to be partisan politics at its worst: playing to the prejudices of a part of the Republican base. But it is at the expense of the rights and dignity of millions of Americans.
The day before, on July 25, the Trump administration filed a brief in the United States Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit urging it to reject the argument that discrimination based on sexual orientation violates the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in employment. In March, the United States Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, which is headquartered in Chicago, held that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, sex or religion, prohibits sexual orientation discrimination as well. California law is clear in prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The Trump administration’s choice to file a brief in the 2nd Circuit, which is based in New York, is surprising because it is a case between private parties and does not involve the federal government. The court did not ask for the views of the federal government, though courts sometimes do this. Like Trump’s tweet about transgender individuals in the military, the brief to restrict the reach of federal civil rights laws was a completely unnecessary stance against civil rights.
Earlier this year, the Trump administration reversed another Obama policy to protect transgender students’ rights in schools. In two letters to school officials across the country, the Department of Education under Obama said that it interpreted federal law to prevent discrimination against transgender students. The letters said that “(s)chools have a responsibility to provide a safe and nondiscriminatory environment for all students, including transgender students” and that students should be able to use restrooms and other facilities in accord with their gender identity. The Trump administration changed course and rescinded these letters.
Again, what is striking is this is unnecessary. Countless schools across the country have allowed individuals to use facilities based on their gender identity and there have been no problems. The Los Angeles Unified School District has followed this policy since 2005 and all California schools since 2013. School officials repeatedly say that there have not been any difficulties in respecting students’ gender identities.
So why has Trump so dramatically departed from his campaign promises? This seems to be partisan politics at its worst: playing to the prejudices of a part of the Republican base. But it is at the expense of the rights and dignity of millions of Americans.
Former United States Attorney General Loretta Lynch eloquently expressed what is at stake when she declared: “This action is about a great deal more than just bathrooms. This is about the dignity and respect we accord our fellow citizens, and the laws that we, as a people and as a country, have enacted to protect them – indeed, to protect all of us. ... This is a time to summon our national virtues of inclusivity, diversity, compassion, and open-mindedness. What we must not do – what we must never do – is turn on our neighbors, our family members, our fellow Americans, for something they cannot control, and deny what makes them human.”
But that is exactly what the Trump administration is doing.
Erwin Chemerinsky is dean and professor of law at the UC Berkeley School of Law. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.