Dominic Holden reports for BuzzFeed News:
“US Attorney General Jeff Sessions has reversed a federal government policy that said transgender workers were protected from discrimination under a 1964 civil rights law, according to a memo on Wednesday sent to agency heads and US attorneys.
Sessions’ directive, obtained by BuzzFeed News, says, “Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination encompasses discrimination between men and women but does not encompass discrimination based on gender identity per se, including transgender status.”
It adds that the government will take this position in pending and future matters, which could have far-reaching implications across the federal government and may result in the Justice Department fighting against transgender workers in court.
“Although federal law, including Title VII, provides various protections to transgender individuals, Title VII does not prohibit discrimination based on gender identity per se,” Sessions writes. “This is a conclusion of law, not policy. As a law enforcement agency, the Department of Justice must interpret Title VII as written by Congress.”
But Sharon McGowan, a former lawyer in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and now an attorney for the LGBT group Lambda Legal, countered that Sessions’ is ignoring a widespread trend in federal courts.
“It’s ironic for them to say this is law, and not policy,” McGowan told BuzzFeed News. “The memo is devoid of discussion of the way case law has been developing in this area for the last few years. It demonstrates that this memo is not actually a reflection of the law as it is — it’s a reflection of what the DOJ wishes the law were.”
“The sessions DOJ is trying to roll back the clock and pretend that the progress of the last decade hasnt’ happened,” she added. “The Justice Department is actually getting back in the business of making anti-transgender law in court.”
“The Justice Department is actually getting back in the business of making anti-transgender law in court.”
The memo reflects the Justice Department’s aggression toward LGBT rights under President Trump and Sessions, who reversed an Obama-era policy that protects transgender students after a few weeks in office. Last month, Sessions filed a brief at the Supreme Court in favor of a Christian baker who refused a wedding cake to a gay couple. And last week, the department argued in court that Title VII doesn’t protect a gay worker from discrimination, showing that Sessions will take his view on Title VII into private employment disputes.
At issue in the latest policy is how broadly the government interprets Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which does not address LGBT rights directly. Rather, it prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex.
But the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, an independent agency that enforces civil rights law in the workplace, and a growing body of federal court decisions have found sex discrimination does include discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sex stereotyping — and that Title VII therefore bans anti-transgender discrimination as well.
Embracing that trend, former attorney general Eric Holder under President Obama announced the Justice Department would take that position as well, issuing a memo in 2014 that said, “I have determined that the best reading of Title VII’s prohibition of sex discrimination is that it encompasses discrimination based on gender identity, including transgender status. The most straightforward reading of Title VII is that discrimination ‘because of … sex’ includes discrimination because an employee’s gender identification is as a member of a particular sex, or because the employee is transitioning, or has transitioned, to another sex.”
But Sessions said in his latest policy that he “withdraws the December 15, 2014, memorandum,” and adds his narrower view that the law only covers discrimination between “men and women.”
“The Department of Justice will take that position in all pending and future matters (except where controlling lower-court precedent dictates otherwise, in which event the issue should be preserved for potential future review),” Sessions writes.
Sessions adds: “The Justice Department must and will continue to affirm the dignity of all people, including transgender individuals. Nothing in this memorandum should be construed to condone mistreatment on the basis of gender identity, or to express a policy view on whether Congress should amend Title VII to provide different or additional protections.”
Devin O’Malley, a spokesperson for the Justice Department, explained the decision to issue the memo, telling BuzzFeed News, “The Department of Justice cannot expand the law beyond what Congress has provided. 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.”
McGowan, from Lambda Legal, counters, “The memo is so weak that analysis is so thin, that it will courts will recognize it for what it is — a raw political document and not sound legal analysis that should be given any weight by them.”
Virulent homophobia has always been a key element of the “Gonzo Apocalypto Agenda.” Check out this report from Mark Joseph Stern at Slate about how when serving as Alabama’s Attorney General Gonzo attempted to use an Alabama statute that had been ruled unconstitutional by a Federal Judge to both publicly demean LGBTQ students and stomp on their First Amendment rights. (So much for the disingenuous BS speech that Gonzo delivered on Free Speech at Georgetown Law last week.) Here’s what happened:
“Attorney General Jeff Sessions delivered a speech at Georgetown University Law Center in which he argued that “freedom of thought and speech on the American campus are under attack.” As my colleague Dahlia Lithwick explained, the attorney general said this in “a room full of prescreened students who asked him prescreened questions while political demonstrators outside were penned off in ‘free speech zones.’ ” Ensconced in a safe space of his own, Sessions blasted the notion that speech can be “hurtful,” criticizing administrators and students for their “crackdown” on “speech they may have disagreed with.”
Mark Joseph Stern
MARK JOSEPH STERN
Mark Joseph Stern is a writer for Slate. He covers the law and LGBTQ issues.
Sessions’ hypocrisy on speech issues is not a new development. In 1996, the then–attorney general of Alabama used the full power of his office to try to shut down an LGBTQ conference at the University of Alabama. Sessions took his battle to court, asking a federal judge to let him block the conference altogether—or, at the very least, silence students who wished to discuss LGBTQ issues. He ultimately failed, but his campaign reveals a great deal about his highly selective view of free expression. Sessions claims to support freedom for “offensive” speech, but when speech offends him, he is all too happy to play the censor.
When Sessions served as Alabama attorney general, the state still criminalized sodomy. A 1992 law, Alabama Education Code Section 16-1-28, also barred public universities from funding, recognizing, or supporting any group “that fosters or promotes a lifestyle or actions prohibited by” the sodomy statute, either “directly or indirectly.” The law also forbade schools from allowing such organizations to use public facilities. Sessions’ predecessor, Jimmy Evans, had interpreted the statute to effectively outlaw the discussion or promotion of gay rights on public campuses, with that prohibition even extending to AIDS awareness campaigns.
In 1995, the University of South Alabama’s Gay Lesbian Bisexual Alliance sued in federal court to block Section 16-1-28. That summer, the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that, under the First Amendment, public universities may not deny access to facilities or funding for student organizations on the basis of their viewpoints. This decision, the GLBA asserted, rendered Section 16-1-28 unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Myron H. Thompson agreed, holding the law to be invalid in a January 1996 ruling.
This decision was excellent news for the Gay Lesbian Bisexual Alliance at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. The GLBA had planned to host the Fifth Annual Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual College Conference of the Southeastern United States in February 1996. Sessions, by now attorney general, was trying his hardest to shut it down.
“University officials say they’re going to try to obey the law,” Sessions said at the time, as CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski reported in December of last year. “I don’t see how it can be done without canceling this conference. I remain hopeful that if the administration does not act, the board of trustees will.” Sessions didn’t give up even after Judge Thompson struck down the law. “I intend to do everything I can to stop that conference,” he said.
In a last-ditch effort, Sessions returned to Thompson’s court and asked permission to ban the conference. “The State of Alabama,” he explained in court filings, “will experience irreparable harm by funding a conference and activities in violation of state law.” Failing a total ban, Sessions implored Thompson to let him censor any discussion of “safe sex and the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases.” Sessions claimed that, by talking about LGBTQ issues, conference attendees were essentially conspiring to promote criminal activity, and Alabama should not be obligated to support their criminality. Predictably, Thompson rejected Sessions’ arguments, writing that the attorney general was endeavoring to violate students’ free speech rights. Sessions then appealed to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which unanimously ruled against Alabama. The conference went on as planned.
Cathy Lopez Wessell, a lead organizer and spokeswoman for the conference, told me Sessions’ intervention “was incredibly stressful. We got threatening phone calls. We were attacked from all sides.” She continued, “We were the abomination of the month. I didn’t feel safe in the world for a while. I started to internalize some of the judgment leveled at our group. I thought, there must be something deeply wrong with you if you need to be silenced.”
Lopez Wessell explained that Sessions’ campaign against the conference registered as a broader attack on LGBTQ students.
“If we can’t talk, do we have a right to exist?” Lopez Wessell asked. “If our speech is so dangerous that it needs to be stopped, then are we dangerous? We weren’t promoting any particular activity; we just wanted to talk—about our experiences, about our existence.”
Denying the humanity as well as the human rights of those he is biased against is a staple of the Gonzo Apocalypto agenda. Just look at his constant attempts to tie all members of the Hispanic ethnic community to crime, drugs, and gangs (even though all credible studies show that immigrants or all types have markedly lower crime rates than native-born U.S. citizens) and his false and gratuitous attempts to tie “Dreamers” to crime, terrorism, and loss of jobs!
There is no more certain way of knowing that a DOJ “legal” memo is all policy and no law than the statement: “This is a conclusion of law, not policy.“ In other words, “Don’t you dare accuse me of doing what I’m actually doing!”
Since assuming the office of Attorney General for which he is so spectacularly unqualified, here’s a list of the folks whose rights or humanity Sessions has attacked or disparaged:
Civil Rights Protesters
City Officials Seeking To Foster Community Law Enforcement
State Governors Who Disagree With Him
Federal Judges Who Find Trump Policies Illegal
State & Federal Judges Who Object To Migrants Being Arrested At Their Courts
Liberal Students & College Administrators
Unaccompanied Migrant Children
Whistleblowers (a/k/a “Leakers” in “Gonzopeak”)
DOJ Career Attorneys
I’m sure I’ve left a few out. Feel free to send me additions. The list just keeps getting longer all the time.
The only group that appears to be “A-OK” with Gonzo is “White straight Christian male Republican ultra rightists.”
Liz was right!