Yesterday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent a memo to agency heads and US attorneys. Obtained by BuzzFeed, the memo read in part:
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.
In other words, while federal law previously recognized that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act applied to all forms of gender discrimination, the Justice Department is now choosing to interpret the law more narrowly; no longer protecting all men and women from employer, voting, or other forms of public discrimination. Specifically, transgender men and women will no longer have these federal protections.
Currently, only 20 states plus the District of Columbia have laws prohibiting discrimination against transgender individuals. So with the distribution of a memo, three fifths of our nation’s citizens just lost human rights protections which they had the day before.
It shouldn’t be that easy to take away basic rights.
Additionally, the removal of federal backing puts existing state laws into greater peril, as opponents are already mobilized trying to over turn state laws. Even more of our citizens could lose their rights.
This unconscionable act cannot go unchallenged.
In his memo, Session tries to sound nonchalant about stripping citizens of their rights. The new Justice Department interpretation is “a conclusion of law, not policy. As a law enforcement agency, the Department of Justice must interpret Title VII as written by Congress.”
Scapegoating Congress for this egregious interpretation, however, flies in the face of existing case law and existing understanding Title VII protections.
Sessions attempts to appear all innocent and neutral in re-interpreting this law:
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.
But it’s not neutral to roll back protections which have been in place, and it’s not innocent to explicitly remove protections covering transgender individuals. Despite his claims to the contrary, this is a policy move, not a legal one.
Furthermore this move comes just days after the United States took a position – as just one of 13 countries – against a UN resolution condemning the death penalty as a sanction for same-sex relations.
Yes, you read that right – we are no longer against the state-sanction murder of people for being gay.
The current administration is waging a war against human rights on many fronts. I know we are tired, we are exhausted and numbed from the constant stream of negative news. But we cannot allow these policy changes to pass silently or without confrontation.
We cannot let it be okay to simply re-interpret someone’s rights away.