Following attacks on Muslims, refugees, immigrants, and the country of Cuba over the last several months, LGBTQ people became the latest group to be scapegoated by President Donald Trump and members of his administration this week.
First came the announcement — by tweet — that trans individuals would no longer be allowed to serve in the military. The next day, the U.S. Justice Department — headed by Trump appointee Jeff Sessions — released a statement saying that Title VII does not offer employment protections on the basis of sexual orientation, a departure from the directives of the department under President Obama.
It is a telling and disturbing pattern that President Trump’s priorities in office have been to attack vulnerable populations: through a travel ban on six primarily Muslim countries, through increased efforts at deportations of Americans, through re-establishing a travel embargo with Cuba, and now with twin attacks on the rights of LGBTQ Americans.
Here in Western Mass, as might be expected, activists and politicians are opposing the sentiment expressed in the anti-trans-in-the-military tweet. Deja Greenlaw, a transgender woman and member of transgender support group UniTy of the Pioneer Valley, recently told the Daily Hampshire Gazette that Trump could not succeed.
“You just can’t. This is the United States,” she said.
Greenlaw has many allies, including more than a dozen Republican senators. Conservative U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah was one of them; his office sent out a statement saying, “Transgender people are people, and deserve the best we can do for them.”
The military, for its part, has declined to enact the ban, stating that it has not received any official directive from the Secretary of Defense — who was on vacation when the tweet was sent out and reportedly appalled by it.
Speaking about the Justice Department announcement regarding work protections, Western New England University law professor Erin Bezuvis said the directive is only advisory. Judges still will use their own discretion regarding the law, and many have used Title VII to uphold protections for LGBTQ individuals under the clause protecting discrimination on the basis of sex.
Twenty states, including Massachusetts, also have their own laws explicitly extending employment protections on the basis of sexual orientation.
She thought the most likely way forward to get to 50 was through the Supreme Court.
“The alternative is to convince Congress or every state one at a time to strengthen their laws through legislation,” she said. “It has been over 20 years and that hasn’t worked.”
At the same time Bezuvis said her biggest worry is that civil rights agencies are being drastically underfunded under the Trump administration, and that could do lasting damage to civil rights.
Something that might cheer activists is that Trump’s presidency has been one of very few successes — the travel ban is in the courts, the Cuba policy is not as far-reaching as was first announced, the pull out from the Paris Climate accord was countered by state, local, and personal efforts, and in the latest setback, it appears that Trump’s attack on Obamacare has failed for the time being. U.S. Sen. John McCain, whose earlier vote allowed debate to continue, cast a surprising deciding vote, along with U.S. Sen.s Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, to kill even the Republicans’ least ambitious repeal effort. It may yet be that, through activism and a united opposition, these two efforts opposing LGBT rights wind up ineffective, as well.
One area Trump has succeeded is in staffing the White House and so that it resembles the Thunderdome. The latest addition — Anthony Scaramucci — made his splash by telling a reporter that fellow staffer Reince Priebus “cockblocked” him and that Stephen Bannon was “trying to suck his own cock.”
The style-over-substance presidency continues — for now.
Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.