Trump administration dismantles LGBT-friendly policies

The nation’s health department is taking steps to dismantle LGBT health initiatives, as political appointees have halted or rolled back regulations intended to protect LGBT workers and patients, removed LGBT-friendly language from documents and reassigned the senior adviser dedicated to LGBT health.

The sharp reversal from Obama-era policies carries implications for a population that’s been historically vulnerable to discrimination in health care settings, say LGBT health advocates. A Health Affairs study last year found that many LGBT individuals have less access to care than heterosexuals; in a Harvard-Robert Wood Johnson-NPR survey one in six LGBT individuals reported experiencing discrimination from doctors or at a clinic.

The Trump administration soon after taking office also moved to change the agency’s LGBT-related health data collection, a window into health status and discrimination. Last month it established a new religious liberty division to defend health workers who have religious objections to treating LGBT patients.

The changes at the Department of Health and Human Services represent “rapid destruction of so much of the progress on LGBT health,” said Kellan Baker, a researcher at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health who worked with HHS on LGBT issues for nearly a decade. “It’s only a matter of time before all the gains made under the Obama administration are reversed under the Trump administration, for purposes that have nothing to do with public health and have everything to do with politics.”

The policy reversals also come after President Donald Trump repeatedly pledged during his campaign that he would support LGBT causes. “Thank you to the LGBT community!” Trump tweeted in June 2016. “I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs.”

The Trump administration defended its approach to LGBT health as part of its broader health care strategy.

“The policies of the Trump administration are intended to improve the lives of all Americans, including the LGBTQ community,” White House principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah said in a statement. “Through actions aimed at making health care more affordable, rolling back burdensome regulations, and combating the opioid crisis, the administration is working to ensure a healthier America.”

The new leader of HHS — Alex Azar, who was sworn in as secretary last month — is thought to be more pragmatic than his predecessor Tom Price. Azar previously led U.S. operations for Eli Lilly, a pharmaceutical company that has been hailed by the Human Rights Campaign, among others, for its pro-LGBT policies. Lilly opposed Indiana’s religious liberty law, advanced by then-Gov. Mike Pence, that LGBT groups said was discriminatory.

However, staff inside the health department have raised concerns about several other Trump appointees now in senior roles who had a history of anti-LGBT comments before joining the agency, Among them is Roger Severino, a former Heritage Foundation official who has said that the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision on same-sex marriage was “wrong” and repeatedly warned of its consequences.

“[S]ame-sex marriage was merely the start, not end, of the left’s LGBT agenda,” Severino wrote in May 2016, about 10 months before he was tapped by Trump to be the health department’s top civil rights official. “The radical left is using government power to coerce everyone, including children, into pledging allegiance to a radical new gender ideology over and above their right to privacy, safety, and religious freedom.”

Asked in an interview this month if he stood by those comments, Severino pointed out that since joining the health department he had reached out to LGBT advocates. He also said his responsibility as civil rights chief is to uphold constitutional protections for all Americans.

“Statements I’ve made in the past are not binding on what I do in my role as a public servant,” Severino said. “What I’m guided by, and what I’m required to follow, is the law… I’m dedicated to treating everybody fairly and in accordance with the law.”

HHS officials also pointed to a listening session that Severino convened in April 2017 with more than a dozen LGBT advocates as well as several follow-up conversations with medical experts. “The outreach has been significant,” an agency spokesperson said.

But nearly all of those LGBT advocates said they’ve essentially been ignored since sitting down with Severino nearly a year ago.

“There’s been no communication since then through all the channels that he and his staff know how to reach us,” said Mara Youdelman of the National Health Law Program, who attended last year’s listening session and submitted subsequent requests for information that haven’t been returned. “It was a one-shot deal — and all of their actions speak much louder than words and one listening session.”

New direction under Trump

Though Barack Obama as a candidate for president opposed same-sex marriage, his administration immediately took steps to advance LGBT health issues, like loosening the rules on hospital visitation rights after some same-sex couples had been barred from seeing each other.

“[A]ll across America, patients are denied the kindnesses and caring of a loved one at their sides… [and] uniquely affected are gay and lesbian Americans,” Obama wrote in a 2010 memorandum, instructing HHS to expand visitation rights, a policy that still stands.

The Obama administration in 2016 also finalized a regulation, Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, that banned discrimination in health care based on sexual orientation and extended those protections to transgender individuals for the first time.

While some conservative groups said that the Obama administration moved too quickly on LGBT health priorities, its leaders argue their efforts were necessary, even overdue. The purpose of the agency is to serve all Americans, not just straight people. Our job was helping everyone,” said Kathy Greenlee, who was appointed as an assistant HHS secretary in 2009 and is openly lesbian. “There was pent-up support for these issues.”

But upon taking office last year, the Trump administration swiftly froze a series of LGBT-friendly rules, including proposed new regulations to further ban discrimination in Medicare and Medicaid. A regulation that would have allowed transgender HHS staff more protections when using the department’s bathrooms and other facilities also was ignored.

“It was signed and technically finished on Jan. 19, 2017, but not posted online,” said one staffer. “And the new administration considered it unpublished and pulled it back.”

The Trump administration also reinterpreted the ACA’s Section 1557 anti-discrimination mandate, with the White House declining to fight a court battle to enforce it and signaling that it would roll back the rule. The health agency’s new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, which POLITICO first reported last month, is expected to offer greater protections for health care workers who do not wish to treat LGBT patients.

Meanwhile, the agency’s senior adviser for LGBT health — a lawyer named Elliot Kennedy — was reassigned from the HHS secretary’s office to an HHS office in Rockville, Md., to work on disease prevention. Kennedy’s previous portfolio, including leading a committee to review and advance LGBT policy issues across HHS, also has lost influence, after openly LGBT leaders left the agency and current LGBT staffers say they’ve been dissuaded from attending. The committee’s annual report has not been publicly posted since 2016.

“Elliot Kennedy currently serves in the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion as liaison for Healthy People 2020’s LGBT Health Topic and Objectives,” an HHS spokesperson said, in response to questions about the reassignment. “He continues to serve on the HHS LGBT Policy Coordinating Committee.”

Another quiet battle has been over a pair of HHS surveys, with the Trump administration moving to strike questions about sexual orientation that had been added by the Obama administration in order to understand health disparities and LGBT specific health issues. The two surveys are used to shape policy for older and disabled Americans, respectively. The Trump administration subsequently reinstated some of the questions after an outcry.

“A lot of people think data are really boring. But data are fundamental, especially to public health,” said Baker, the Johns Hopkins researcher. “The only way to have the evidence you need to prioritize and spend wisely to address disparities is to have data about those disparities.”

A listening session followed by silence

The Trump administration says that it’s worked hard to engage LGBT health advocates, pointing to the listening session convened by Severino in April 2017 and attended by 17 representatives from groups that specifically deal with LGBT health.

“We’ve done a lot of outreach to the LGBT community to hear people’s concerns to be open, to listen and to learn,” Severino said. “And we will continue to do that because it’s important. I see my role as serving everybody.”

But all of the LGBT advocacy organizations represented at the April 2017 listening session said that they had concerns about HHS’ approach to LGBT health. Nearly every attendee said they hadn’t had meaningful interactions with Severino or the civil rights division in 10 months and they were underwhelmed by last year’s meeting.

“There’s a difference between hearing and listening,” said Robin Maril of the Human Rights Campaign, one of the attendees. “For a listening session to actually be successful, we would’ve had to see actual, meaningful engagement. And we’ve seen nothing but disappointing and harmful policies come out of HHS and [the civil rights office] since the meeting.”

“A number of us struggled with whether we would participate in something that would be used for exactly this purpose … a charade to be used by folks to suggest they are open-minded,” added Sharon McGowan of Lambda Legal, who also attended. “That was the lost cause that we suspected that it was.”

The Human Rights Campaign and Lambda Legal were among more than a dozen advocacy organizations that sent follow-up letters to Severino in April 2017 and July 2017 that warned HHS to halt rolling back LGBT protections and better engage the patient community. The advocates say they were ignored.

Only one attendee of last year’s listening session who responded to POLITICO — Ezra Young, a lawyer who has since left the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund and is now in private practice — said that he’s been reassured by Severino and HHS’ actions.

“I’m trying to be fair to them. There was a lot of fear based on what Roger wrote in the past,” said Young, a transgender, Latino man. “I don’t know at this point if all that fear is rational based on what has and hasn’t been done.” Young added that he’s been in dialogue with Severino, saying that the two men discussed lunch plans as recently as December.

However, Young’s former employer holds a different view. “This administration continues taking actions that harm our community, which already faces immense bias,” the organization said in a statement to POLITICO.

Christian conservatives hail HHS

Since Trump took office, multiple agencies have pursued policy reversals related to LGBT priorities. Under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Justice Department suggested that federal law doesn’t ban sex discrimination in the workplace for transgender employees, a turnaround from the Obama administration. The Department of Education this month said that it would no longer investigate transgender students’ complaints about access to bathrooms.

But Christian conservatives are noticing, and specifically praising, the reversals at the health department. “Few departments have [historically] given Christians more grief than HHS,” Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council wrote last month. But “from about-faces on radical sex ed to abortion policy, the White House is turning the Health and Human Services into a virtual promise-keeping factory.”

The Trump administration also has put its mark on the language it has — and hasn’t — included in formal HHS documents.

One recent flashpoint was the department’s four-year strategic plan, a document that’s required by federal law, prepared by career staff and used as an agency roadmap. The latest draft plan, which was released in October, did not make a single reference to LGBT health issues — a notable break from the two previous strategic plans, dating back to 2010. The agency removed the draft plan, which also contained strong anti-abortion language, from its web site late last year.

However, the plan originally contained references to LGBT health, two HHS staffers told POLITICO, until political appointees ordered that the language be stripped from the document. The effort was spearheaded by Shannon Royce, the agency’s liaison with religious groups, who staff say also took steps to include other language favorable to Christian conservatives.

“In our strategic plan, we actually affirmed life from conception to natural death,” Royce said, touting the new language at the Evangelicals for Life conference last month.

HHS did not respond to a question about why references to LGBT health were removed.

Past comments cited by LGBT staff

Beyond policy, staff say there have been clear signals about the personnel chosen to steer the department. For instance, the Obama administration tapped multiple LGBT officials for senior roles, including Richard Sorian to run the agency’s public affairs.

In contrast, the current public affairs chief is Charmaine Yoest, a prominent anti-abortion leader who for years advocated against same-sex marriage and other LGBT issues. For instance, Yoest a decade ago said that same-sex couples shouldn’t be allowed to adopt children and that transgender individuals suffered from mental disorders; she declined to comment on whether she still holds those positions now. (POLITICO first reported on Friday that Yoest will soon be leaving HHS.) Royce, the head of the faith-based office, previously worked as a senior leader for organizations that fought same-sex marriage and promoted “conversion therapy,” a controversial practice to change the sexual orientation of LGBT individuals.

Several other top officials also criticized LGBT priorities just months before joining the administration. “Vote LGBT if you want to be forced to have your baby delivered at an abortion clinic by an abortionist,” Matthew Bowman tweeted in April 2016, about nine months before being tapped by Trump to join the health department, where he is currently deputy general counsel. After the Obama administration in June 2016 expanded protections for transgender military members, Severino wrote that the “decision has nothing to do with the Constitution and everything to do with politics and a gender ideology run amok.”

HHS did not respond to specific questions about Yoest, Bowman, Severino and Royce’s past public comments, and made only Severino available for comment. But a spokesperson said that LGBT staff should not be concerned.

“All the HHS staff you refer to in your story have sworn to uphold the law and believe that everyone deserves to be treated with respect because of their inherent human dignity,” HHS spokesperson Matt Lloyd said in a statement. “The belief that marriage is between one man and one woman is a mainstream view held by millions of Americans, a belief the Supreme Court has said is based on ‘decent and honorable premises.'”

Severino, the son of Colombian immigrants, added that he’s spent his life working to combat bigotry after experiencing it growing up in California.

“I faced actual discrimination and mistreatment,” Severino said, who said he heard slurs while learning to swim at a public pool and was wrongly steered to remedial classes in high school. “Those sort of inflection points drives me and my passion for civil rights,” he added, pointing to his education at Harvard Law School and subsequent work in the Department of Justice, where he served as an attorney for seven years under the George W. Bush and Obama administrations.

Career staff say that, regardless of what agency leaders believe or maintain now, their past comments on LGBT priorities have been widely passed around the 80,000-person department. “I photocopied them and left them in the cafeteria,” said one staffer. “It’s important for people to know these are the leaders they work for.”

It’s also fostered a climate where six staffers who are LGBT described removing their wedding rings before coming to work in the morning, taking down photos of their partners and families or ultimately finding new jobs further away from certain political appointees. They did not want to be identified; two said they feared being reassigned for being gay.

“When you have to hide a major part of who you are … it’s really debilitating,” said one staffer. “I wish I had more courage to be out with these people.”

Some LGBT staffers told POLITICO they hesitated to raise their concerns while the agency was run by then-Secretary Tom Price, who as a congressman voted against LGBT priorities and as secretary was backed by the Family Research Council, an anti-LGBT group that holds an official position that “homosexual conduct is harmful.”

Long-serving staff who worked with new HHS Secretary Azar, when he served as a senior agency leader in the George W. Bush administration, or observed his work in the private sector say they’re hoping he’ll take a different approach. Under Azar’s watch, Eli Lilly was hailed by the Human Rights Campaign as a company committed to inclusion and LGBT protections. The Indiana-based company also opposed a state law that critics feared could be discriminatory against LGBT people.

“Alex always struck me as a very pragmatic person. Not an ideologue. Very business-like. Very smart,” said one LGBT staffer. “I’m hoping he’ll put some brakes on the ideological stuff.”

Staff also suggested that HHS has bigger priorities than rolling back LGBT health gains. “To the vast majority of Americans, this isn’t that big a deal anymore,” said an employee. “It’s perplexing why they spend so much time on it.”

[Politico]

 

 

Trump fires council advising on HIV/AIDS

President Trump has fired the entire council that advises his administration about the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the Washington Post reported on Saturday.

Patrick Sullivan, an epidemiologist at Emory University in Atlanta who works on HIV testing programs, told the newspaper the members were informed by letter this week that their terminations were effective immediately.

The Washington Post said the council, which was set up in 1995, makes national HIV/AIDS strategy recommendations — a five-year plan which sets out how health officials should respond to the epidemic.
The council is made up of doctors, members of industry, members of the community and people living with the disease.

The Washington Blade, an LGBTI newspaper, cited sources with knowledge of the terminations as saying that the terms of several council members appointed during the Obama era still had time to run.

Anger Over Trump’s Health Cuts
The mass dismissal follows the resignation in June of six other representatives of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, who said at the time they were frustrated with Trump’s health care policies.

Several members slammed Trump’s planned American Health Care Act (AHCA), saying it would leave many of the 1.1 million Americans with HIV/AIDS without access to proper treatment. AHCA failed to pass in Congress this year, despite several attempts.

Council members also complained that, since taking office, Trump had failed to appoint a director of the Office of National AIDS Policy, a position first created during the Clinton administration.

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2017/12/30/president-trump-fires-council-advising-hiv-aids/992426001/

Homeland Security Senior Adviser Was Right-Wing Radio Host Who Promoted Birtherism

A Department of Homeland Security senior adviser to the White House was formerly a conservative radio host who “promoted conspiracy theories about former President Barack Obama’s birthplace, lamented the “Zimbabwe-fication of America,” and mocked the LGBT community,” according to a report by CNN’s KFILE.

Frank Wuco joined the White House in January after spending several years as a radio host in Florida, and his hardline views on Islam have been previously reported – as well as a jihadist character named Fuad Wasul he would often dress up as for videos warning of Islamic extremism.

CNN’s KFILE combed through dozens of hours of Wuco’s radio show, and found a trove of controversial comments from the man who now leads a team working to enforce President Donald Trump’s executive orders, including his controversial travel ban:

On the radio, Wuco said Obama knew nothing of the “black American experience,” defended the initial speculation in the media that Muslim extremists were responsible for the mass killing in Norway, and said that gay people had hijacked the word “gay” from happy people.

Wuco, a former naval intelligence officer, also happens to have something in common with Trump: he touted the birther conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was not born in the United States, even referring to the former president’s birth certificate as “a questionable document.”

Acting DHS press secretary Tyler Houlton defended Wuco in a statement to CNN, saying “Mr. Wuco works every day to keep the American people safe by helping to implement the President’s security-focused agenda, including raising the global bar for vetting and screening of potential terrorists.

“Years-old comments cherry picked from thousands of hours on the air have no bearing on his ability to perform his job for the American people,” Houlton said.

[Mediaite]

Sarah Sanders: Trump OK With Businesses Hanging Antigay Signs

President Trump’s press secretary said her boss would have no problem with businesses hanging antigay signs that explicitly state they don’t serve LGBT customers.

Hours after oral arguments concluded in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case — where a Colorado baker argued to the Supreme Court that his religion allows him to refuse service to gay people — Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was confronted on legalized discrmination during today’s White House press briefing.

“The lawyer for the solicitor general’s office for the administration said today in the Supreme Court if it would be legal, possible for a baker to put a sign in his window saying we don’t bake cakes for gay weddings,” The New York Times‘s Michael Shear asked. “Does the president agree that that would be ok?”

“The president certainly supports religious liberty and that’s something he talked about during the campaign and has upheld since taking office,” Sanders replied.

When pressed on whether that included support for signs that deny service to gay people, Sanders responded: “I believe that would include that.”

[Advocate]

Media

Sessions’ DOJ reverses transgender workplace protections

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has reversed an Obama-era policy explicitly defining transgender workers as protected under employment discrimination laws, CBS News’ Paula Reid reports.

The Wednesday policy reversal of what qualifies as employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act comes down to an idealogical disagreement over whether “sex” is decided by a person’s birth certificate, or whether sexual discrimination includes broader gender identity. Title VII prohibits any employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. Former Attorney General Eric Holder in 2014 interpreted “sex” discrimination to apply to discrimination based on gender identity, while Sessions’ DOJ interprets that it only applies to discrimination between men and women.

Sessions’ DOJ argues Holder went beyond the definition of the 1964 law by including transgender discrimination.

“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.”

The move comes after President Trump has announced he will prohibit transgender individuals from serving in the military, a decision that shocked his own party and caused backlash from Democrats and civil liberties groups.

Sessions’ latest policy shift could very well could end up in court, Reid reports. Already, it’s under fire from civil liberties groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

“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,” Esseks continued. “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.”

[CBS News]

U.S. votes against U.N. resolution condemning death penalty for LGBT people

Last week, the United Nations Human Rights Council approved a resolution condemning the use of the death penalty in a discriminatory manner such as consensual same-sex relations. Along with 13 other nations, the United States voted against it. Instead, the U.S. sided with allies such as Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Qatar, Japan and the United Arab Emirates. Bangladesh, China and India also voted against the measure, which still passed along a 27-13 margin.

“The resolution asked countries that have not yet abolished the death penalty to ensure that it is not ‘applied arbitrarily or in a discriminatory manner’ and that it is not applied against persons with mental or intellectual disabilities and persons below 18 years of age at the time of the commission of the crime, as well as pregnant women,” according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association (ILGA).

The resolution does not outlaw the use of the death penalty. Instead, it merely condemns its use in cases of “apostasy, blasphemy and adultery” an other similar instances.

“It is unconscionable to think that there are hundreds of millions of people living in States where somebody may be executed simply because of whom they love” Renato Sabbadini, Executive Director of ILGA said. “This is a monumental moment where the international community has publicly highlighted that these horrific laws simply must end.”

LGBT rights activists criticized President Donald Trump’s administration and U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, for not supporting the resolution. Yet, don’t go thinking this stance is anything new or localized to the 45th president’s administration. The U.S. has never voted to support any U.N. measure that condemns the death penalty in any way. The Obama administration did abstain from a similar vote in 2014, according to BuzzFeed News, though that one did not contain provisions for LGBT individuals.

[Salon]

Update

The Trump State Department said they voted against the resolution “because of broader concerns with the resolution’s approach in condemning the death penalty in all circumstances, and it called for the abolition of the death penalty altogether. ”

Watch here: https://twitter.com/StateDept/status/915291301540593664

However if you look at the text of the resolution on page 3 bullet point 2, it very clearly says it calls upon all states that have not already abolished the death penalty to consider doing so.

Read the resolution text here: http://undocs.org/A/HRC/36/L.6

That isn’t even close to the State Department’s description. She is lying through her teeth.

Trump Lawyers Urge Supreme Court to Rule For Colorado Cake Maker Who Turned Away Gay Couple

Trump administration lawyers joined sides with a Colorado baker Thursday and urged the Supreme Court to rule that he has the right to refuse to provide a wedding cake to celebrate the marriage of two men.

Acting Solicitor Gen. Jeffrey B. Wall filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that the cake maker’s rights to free speech and the free exercise of religion should prevail over a Colorado civil rights law that forbids discrimination based on sexual orientation.

“A custom wedding cake is a form of expression,” he said. “It is an artistic creation that is both subjectively intended and objectively perceived as a celebratory symbol of a marriage.” And as such, the baker has a free-speech right under the 1st Amendment to refuse to “express” his support for a same-sex marriage, Wall argued.

The case of the Colorado cake maker has emerged as the latest battle in the culture wars. It is a clash between the religious rights of a conservative Christian against gay rights and equal treatment for same-sex couples.

The brief filed Thursday is likely to bolster the cake maker’s case, and is in line President Trump’s repeated promises to protect “religious liberty.”

But Wall asked the high court to carve out “only a narrow” exception to the state civil rights laws forbidding businesses to discriminate based on sexual orientation. It should extend only to people like painters, photographers and others whose “product or service [is] inherently communicative.” Most businesses would not qualify, he said. “A commercial banquet hall may not refuse to rent its facilities, nor may a car service refuse to provide limousines” because its owners do not approve of a same-sex marriage, he said.

He also said an exemption for “expressive conduct” would not extend to cases of racial discrimination. The Supreme Court has said racial bias always violates the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection of the laws, he said, but has not yet adopted the same strict standard for judging bias based on sexual orientation.

Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the administration was trying to create a “constitutional right to discriminate.”

“This Justice Department has already made its hostility to the rights of LGBT people and so many others crystal clear. But this brief was shocking, even for this administration,” she said. “We are confident that the Supreme Court will rule on the side of equal rights just as the lower courts have.”

The case began five years ago when two men who were planning to marry went to Masterpiece Cakeshop in a Denver suburb to ask about a wedding cake for their reception. They were surprised and angered when Jack Phillips, the shop owner, said he would not make a cake for a same-sex marriage. Doing so would violate his Christian faith, he said.

The two men filed a complaint with the state Civil Rights Commission in Colorado, which like 20 other states has a law that requires businesses serving the public to provide “full and equal” service to customers without regard to their sexual orientation. An administrative judge, a seven-member state commission and a Colorado appeals court all agreed Phillips had violated the law.

Phillips has continued to operate his bakery, but he no longer designs custom wedding cakes.

Backed by the Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom, he appealed to the Supreme Court late last year for the right under the 1st Amendment to be exempted from the state law.

Shortly after Trump’s first appointee, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, was confirmed and took his seat, the justices announced they would hear the baker’s appeal. The case of Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. Colorado is due to be argued in late November or early December.

[Los Angeles Times]

Trump Signs Order For Military to Discriminate Against Transgender Recruits

President Donald Trump on Friday signed a directive reinstating a ban on transgender individuals from serving in the military, although it defers to the Pentagon on whether to remove those now in uniform and leaves open the door for it to seek changes.

Trump’s directive, issued to the Defense and Homeland Security Departments, reinstates a prohibition of transgender service members lifted last year, putting a formal stamp on a politically divisive change in military personnel policy that Trump first announced last month.

It also bars funding to pay for gender-reassignment surgeries except when “necessary to protect the health of an individual who has already begun a course of treatment to reassign his or her sex.”

The guidance gives Defense Secretary Jim Mattis until Feb. 21, 2018, to submit a plan for implementing the new policy. It also leaves decision of whether to remove current troops to Mattis.

The White House memo also leaves the door open for further changes in the transgender policy, stating that Mattis may advise him on changes.

“The Secretary of Defense, after consulting with the Secretary of Homeland Security, may advise me at any time, in writing, that a change to this policy is warranted,” the memo states.

Then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced in June 2016 the ban on transgender troops would be lifted. Mattis, however, delayed implementation of the policy for new recruits by six months to allow for further study.

Trump first revealed he would reverse the policy in a series of tweets on July 26, announcing transgender individuals would not be allowed “to serve in any capacity” in the military.

Trump’s announcement last month on Twitter that he planned to reverse the Obama policy was hailed by some conservatives who argue that the military has become a social experiment.

But it also drew widespread condemnation from Democrats and some Republicans, who argue the policy shift is discriminatory and would disrupt military readiness.

Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White Friday confirmed in a statement that the department had received the guidance but provided no further details.

“The Department of Defense has received formal guidance from the White House in reference to transgender personnel serving in the military,” White said. “More information will be forth coming.”

Experts predict that implementation of the ban will prove a lethal thicket and predict a series of court challenges that will likely delay the policy.

[Politico]

Trump: ‘Doing the Military a Great Favor’ with Transgender Troop Ban

President Trump said Thursday he is “doing the military a great favor” by banning transgender people from serving in the armed forces.

“I have great respect for the community,” Trump said from his golf club in Bedminster, N.J. “I think I’ve had great support, or I’ve had great support from that community. I got a lot of votes. It’s been a very complicated issue for the military, it’s been a very confusing issue for the military, and I think I’m doing the military a great favor.”

Trump announced the sudden shift in military policy last month in a series of tweets.

“After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military,” Trump tweeted at the time.

“Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you”

The announcement sparked immediate criticism, including from top Republican senators and dozens of retired generals and admirals.

Two LGBTQ rights groups announced Wednesday that they would sue Trump over the ban, claiming claim the president’s July tweets announcing plans to reverse the Department of Defense’s policy on transgender service members violates the equal protection component of the due process clauses of the Fifth Amendment.

[The Hill]

The Justice Department Just Argued Against Gay Rights in a Major Federal Case

The US Justice Department on Wednesday argued in a major federal lawsuit that a 1964 civil rights law doesn’t protect gay workers from discrimination, thereby diverging from a separate, autonomous federal agency that had supported the gay plaintiff’s case.

The Trump administration’s filing is unusual in part because the Justice Department isn’t a party in the case, and the department doesn’t typically weigh in on private employment lawsuits.

But in an amicus brief filed at the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, lawyers under Attorney General Jeff Sessions contend that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans sex discrimination, does not cover sexual orientation.

“The sole question here is whether, as a matter of law, Title VII reaches sexual orientation discrimination,” says the Justice Department’s brief. “It does not, as has been settled for decades. Any efforts to amend Title VII’s scope should be directed to Congress rather than the courts.”

The Justice Department also contends that Title VII only applies if men and women are treated unequally.

“The essential element of sex discrimination under Title VII is that employees of one sex must be treated worse than similarly situated employees of the other sex, and sexual orientation discrimination simply does not have that effect,” the brief says.

The case kicked off in 2010 when Donald Zarda, a skydiving instructor, filed suit against his employer in federal court in New York, alleging the company terminated him for his sexual orientation in violation of Title VII.

After a lower court ruled and the case was appealed, the 2nd Circuit invited outside parties to weigh in. Zarda v. Altitude Express is now before before a full panel of judges at the court.

Among Zarda’s boosters is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a largely autonomous federal agency that handles civil rights disputes in the workplace, which supported Zarda last month in its own court filing.

For several years, the EEOC has declared in federal court that Title VII bans anti-gay discrimination, saying it is based on sex stereotyping, and therefore discrimination on the basis of sex.

But the Justice Department argues in its latest brief, “the EEOC is not speaking for the United States and its position about the scope of Title VII is entitled to no deference beyond its power to persuade.”

The scope of Title VII has been disputed for years.

Under President Obama, the government argued Title VII’s ban on sex discrimination also included gender identity — thereby barring discrimination against transgender workers. But the Obama administration never went as far to say the civil rights law also covered sexual orientation. It had in fact opposed the argument, claiming that its hands were tied by prior court precedent. Yet in 2016, the Obama administration arguably dialed back its opposition by not trying to dismiss a case brought on those grounds.

If Zarda’s argument were to prevail — despite his death in a base-jumping accident in 2014 — it would set new precedent in the circuit by overturning two cases from the 2000s.

Further, it would give momentum to the argument as a general matter, given that in April the 7th Circuit ruled in favor of a lesbian who made the same claim.

Under Sessions, the Justice Department has pushed back against the EEOC’s view and that court decision. “The theories advanced by the EEOC and the Seventh Circuit lack merit,” the brief on Wednesday said. “These theories are inconsistent with Congress’s clear ratification of the overwhelming judicial consensus that Title VII does not prohibit sexual orientation discrimination.”

Several LGBT activists had worried the Justice Department would unleash a more sweeping claim that gender-identity discrimination isn’t covered under the Title VII as well — but the brief doesn’t explicitly speak to that issue.

Earlier on Wednesday, President Trump announced he would end all transgender military service.

“On the day that will go down in history as Anti-LGBT Day comes one more gratuitous and extraordinary attack on LGBT people’s civil rights,” said a statement from James Esseks, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT & HIV Project. “The Sessions-led Justice Department and the Trump administration are actively working to expose people to discrimination.”

“Fortunately, courts will decide whether the Civil Rights Act protects LGBT people, not an Attorney General and a White House that are hell-bent on playing politics with people’s lives,” he said.

[BuzzFeed]

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