Trump’s Record on LGBT Rights: Abhorrent, Unprecedented

After his first year in office, President Donald Trump’s record on LGBT rights and protections fairs far worse than his predecessors, a new report finds.
The report from The Fenway Institute, an education, research, training and policy center in Boston focused on access to health for traditionally underserved communities, states that the Trump administration “has enacted anti-LGBT policies and appointed anti-LGBT officials with alarming speed.” This is despite Trump making campaign promises to protect LGBT people.

Much of the evidence compiled in the report points to areas where the Trump Administration has tried to reverse or undermine progress made by the Obama administration.

Nominations of federal judges for lifetime appointments who have anti LGBT views is one way that the Trump administration is contributing to the potential erosion of LGBT protections, the report finds.

“He’s appointing all of these anti LGBT judges, like Justice Gorsuch on the Supreme Court, and they’re going to be there for decades probably,” said Sean Cahill, an author of the report and The Fenway Institute’s Health Policy Research director.

One of the most obvious examples of this was with the nomination of Jeff Mateer, who the administration later pulled from the nomination process all together.
Described as “Trump’s most dangerous judicial nominee” in a Slate article, Mateer is best known for his comment that transgender children are part of “Satan’s plan.”

The report finds that language used by the Attorney General Jeff Sessions and by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) tends to lean towards protecting discriminatory policies using religious freedom as a veil for these policies.

In a HHS strategic planning report there is no mention of LBGT health disparities in contrast to a report filed by HSS during the previous administration.

According to The Fenway Institute’s report, religious protections are prioritized in a way that mirrors language used in cases that discriminate against LGBT people “under the guise of religious freedom.”

The Institute’s report is also critical of HHS and its Office for Civil Rights Director Roger Severino, who the Human Rights Campaign has called “a radical anti LGBTQ rights activist.”

Through the creation of a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division at HHS, the administration is trying to empower healthcare workers to discriminate against transgender patients by refusing to serve them by claiming to be morally opposed to serving them.

GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders Executive Director Janson Wu said the timing of the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, and other questionable moves by Trump and his appointees, is no accident.

Wu calls the division “a thinly disguised office to protect religious freedom” that was announced days prior to the anniversary of Roe v. Wade.
“What we’re seeing is unprecedented attacks against the LGBT community,” Wu said. “We always knew that the president relied heavily on the Evangelical base to win an election. In a way we knew that some LGBT-positive policies would be reversed in order to appease the base.”
Cahill calls such moves related to religious freedom “an orchestrated backlash,” stemming from what conservative lawmakers have done in their own states since the legalization of same-sex marriage.

“There’s been lots of indication that this was coming,” Cahill said. “It’s taking the form of executive branch actions as opposed to state laws and Congressional bills … I think [Trump’s] just going along with it because these people elected him president.”

The administration has also exhibited a lack of concern for  LGBT people through its reversals of practices and guidance put in place by the Obama administration in areas such as data collection and gender identity protections.

Discrimination based on gender identity in public schools was something that the Obama administration’s Department of Justice sought to fight against, claiming that it was prohibited under Title IX protections. However, under the Trump administration, the Justice Department shows no sign of preserving that guidance, which was ultimately enjoined nationwide by a district court judge.

Inclusion of trans people serving in the military is another Obama era policy that was put on hold after Trump sent a series of  transphobic Tweets calling trans people a “disruption” and claiming that their medical costs would be “tremendous” and burdensome to the military. Those claims were later disproven and trans people have been enlisting in the military since January 1.

Some of the most detrimental decisions made are around data collection on federal surveys, which have long excluded gender identity and transgender status, the report finds.

Excluding these categories, particularly by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and HHS, in data collection could result in less insight on the disproportionate burdens faced by LGBT people. according to the report. The efforts to erase LGBT people extends all the way to simple language, as there was a directive leaked stating that words like “diversity” and “transgender” were not to be used by employees writing reports at the CDC.

Cahill said Severino’s influence on HHS in particular is worth noting, given his stances on marriage equality, sexual orientation and gender identity while working at The Heritage Foundation.  

“It’s this anti LGBT person implementing policies that’s going to increase discrimination against LGBT people in healthcare and that’s not something we want to see. And that really undermines so much progress that we’ve made over the last decade in making it easier for LGBT people to access culturally competent and affirming healthcare,” Cahill said.

Cahill and his colleagues also analyzed how attempts to undermine the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, will disproportionately impact the LGBT community, which has had a large gain in accessing health insurance and protections since its passing. They also note how other attacks on groups, like DACA recipients, would impact large swaths of LGBT people protected by previous policy, who may be sent back to countries that are known to be unfriendly to their LGBT citizens.

Despite the critique, Cahill said there is still a lot of good work happening within the federal government agencies in spite of all this.

“The reality is we’re probably at best treading water at the national level in trying to resist rollback of advances that we were able to achieve over the last few years,” Cahill said. “What I would say is that we need to sort of push back at the federal level, but we also have to think of what can we do at the local and state level of government to advance LGBT equality.”

“It’s extremely understandable to feel disheartened in the face of so many attacks and our community is resilient.” Wu said, “We fought for so many years to resist these rollbacks and we will continue to make progress.”

Jordan Frias

Jordan Frias is an editorial assistant at Boston Herald and a contributor of Spare Change News. He is vice president of the New England Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and a graduate of Northeastern University's School of Journalism.

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