Do not be distracted
President Donald Trump is a master of intentional and unintentional distraction, and that was why very little attention was paid to the administration's recent decision to throw trans students under the bus.
Less that 48 hours after Attorney General Jeff Sessions was sworn in, the Justice Department last week announced that it was withdrawing its request for a stay of an injunction on enforcement of Obama-era guidelines protecting transgender students. LGBT community leaders were warily expecting this move, and so were we. It was lost among mainstream media that was dominated by news that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn discussed ending U.S. sanctions with Russian diplomats before Trump was sworn in – a serious legal issue. Compounding Flynn's problems was that he allegedly lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his conversations (although it's entirely possible that Pence is fudging the truth too, who knows?) At any rate, by late Friday afternoon when the Flynn story was burning up the internet, the Justice Department issued its order, and signaled that it intends to dismantle the careful and deliberate protections the Obama administration had put in place for trans students.
Last year, Texas and 12 other states sued the Obama administration, challenging the guidance issued by the president's Justice and Education departments, which directed public schools to allow trans students to use bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity. Last August, a federal judge blocked the directives nationwide. According to the Associated Press, the Obama administration later requested that the judge's order apply only to the 13 states who were suing while it appealed the ruling. A hearing was set for Tuesday, but last Friday's court filing asked that the hearing be canceled.
The Human Rights Campaign and Equality California are both correct that the action by Sessions' Justice Department is a clear signal that it will not protect trans students. As HRC's Sarah Warbelow said, it could also be a sign of broader reversals of LGBT rights to come. The community is still bracing for the so-called religious freedom executive order that would allow businesses to discriminate against LGBTs based on their religious beliefs. Don't think for a minute that just because it hasn't happened yet Trump has not decided to issue it. Members of the religious right are united in their support for the president, and are expecting and demanding permission to deny services to LGBT people under the guise of religious liberty.
On the trans bathroom issue, the Obama administration relied on Title IX, the federal law guaranteeing equality in education to conclude that gender identity is protected under the law. "Transgender students have the right to access bathrooms and locker rooms and participate on athletic teams that correspond with their gender identity, the 2016 letter" from the Justice and Education departments made clear, Politico reported at the time.
Now, less than a year later, we have an education secretary, Betsy DeVos, who knows practically nothing about public education, and an attorney general who can't wait to legalize discrimination. Meanwhile, Trump trots us out whenever it's convenient for him, like when he pointed to the LGBT community as justification for his travel ban, which barred people from seven predominately Muslim countries for 90 days and refugees from Syria indefinitely. Trump cited last June's attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida as a reason for the ban, which has been halted by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, even though the shooter, Omar Mateen, was an American-born U.S. citizen.
Now that Trump's Cabinet secretaries are being confirmed, we must remain vigilant, not only with Sessions and DeVos, but especially Tom Price, the new health and human services chief. He will be deeply involved in efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which has greatly benefited trans people and those living with HIV/AIDS. Despite the chaos going on in Washington – much of it Trump's own making – we must be alert to distractions, and we must be prepared for more anti-LGBT actions so we can deliver a vigorous response that says we will not be shoved back into the closet by homophobic administration officials.