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The Worst Things Trump Has Done to Transgender People


President Donald Trump has been rolling back LGTBQ+ — and specifically transgender — rights since day one. On January 20, 2017, Trump’s inauguration day, the administration removed all mention of LGBTQ content from the websites of the White House, Department of State, and Department of Labor. 

That was just the first of many attacks to come, including rollbacks of transgender rights that have happened during the middle of a global pandemic, all while LGBTQ+ people are even more at risk of harm and financial despair than usual.

As we enter the 2020 general election season, let’s keep in mind all of the ways the Trump administration has attempted to dismantle the few rights transgender people in this country have. 

February 2017 

A little more than a month after inauguration day, the Trump administration rolled back previous Obama-era protections under Title IX that allowed transgender students to use school bathrooms that correspond with their gender identities. A two-page “Dear Colleague” letter from the administration to public schools said that the earlier guidance needed to be withdrawn, but did not offer any new guidance. 

March 2017

  • The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) removed demographic questions about elderly LGBTQ+ people from two critical surveys: the Centers for Independent Living Annual Program Performance Report and the National Survey of Older Americans Act Participants. These surveys evaluate the effectiveness and equity of programs designed to serve people with disabilities and help determine what care services senior citizens in America need, respectively.
  • Per the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), the Department of Justice  (headed by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions) canceled the long-planned National Institute of Corrections broadcast on “Transgender Persons in Custody: The Legal Landscape,” which aimed to address challenges and practices toward LGBT individuals in custody.
  • The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) removed from its pages resources that informed emergency homeless shelters and other housing providers of HUD nondiscrimination rules. The resources, which were based on the expertise of trans advocates, were initially published in 2016. 
  • The Census bureau withdrew a proposal to collect demographic information about the LGBTQ+ population in the 2020 census. 

April 2017

  • Per the NCTE, the Justice Department canceled quarterly phone calls with LGBTQ+ organizers; these had reportedly happened for years.
  • The Justice Department also abandoned its lawsuit against HB2, otherwise known as the North Carolina “bathroom bill.” 

June 2017

The Department of Education, then (and still) headed by Betsy DeVos, closed a case involving a Sparta, Ohio transgender student and withdrew its 2016 conclusion that the girl’s school wrongfully barred her from the girls’ bathroom. 

September 2017

The Justice Department filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Supreme Court, which argued for businesses’ right to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people. 

October 2017 

The Justice Department issued a memo telling its attorneys to legally agree that federal law does not protect transgender workers from discrimination. One day after issuing this memo, Sessions issued two more memos, which said that citing religious reasons for discrimination is legal under federal law. “Religious employers are entitled to employ only persons whose beliefs and conduct are consistent with the employers’ religious precepts,” the first memo reads. The second memo “direct[s] all attorneys within the Department to adhere to the interpretative guidance set forth” in the first memo. 

December 2017

  • The Trump administration gave the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) a list of forbidden words including “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based,” and “science-based.” 
  • Trump fired the remaining members of the HIV/AIDS advisory council, six months after dozens of members resigned because the Trump administration “has no strategy” for addressing HIV/AIDS; In 2017, the CDC found that the percentage of transgender people who received a new HIV diagnosis was three times the national average. 

January 2018

The Education Department dismissed complaints from transgender students over discrimination. The department’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) issued a letter, per HuffPost, stating they didn’t have subject matter jurisdiction over the case because “the alleged discriminatory conduct you described does not raise any prohibitive bases under the civil rights laws OCR enforces.”

LGBTQ+ advocates told HuffPost that the OCR’s reasoning does not match up with court decisions that protect LGBTQ+ people’s rights.

“That’s an understanding of Title IX that is inconsistent with a majority of court cases in the last several years,” Nathan Smith, director of public policy for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) told HuffPost. “I think what’s important to note is it’s not that the Obama administration came out of the blue to say Title IX now covers transgender students. There’s a wave of court cases from district and circuit courts that have upheld that understanding.”

  • The HHS announced a new “Conscious and Religious Freedom Divisionto “provide HHS with the focus it needs to more vigorously and effectively enforce existing laws protecting the rights of conscience and religious freedom, the first freedom protected in the Bill of Rights,” the HHS wrote in a press release at the time. After this announcement, advocates became concerned that the new division within the HHS would allow for broad discrimination against LGBTQ+ people, particularly transgender patients.

February 2018

The Education Department said it wouldn’t take further complaints from transgender students related to discrimination of bathroom use. 

March 2018 

Trump signed into law a ban on transgender military members. The new law stated that transgender troops who were already serving could continue to do so, but would be required to serve under their gender assigned at birth. 

May 2018 

The Bureau of Prisons in the Department of Justice revised language in the Transgender Offender Manual so that there was no longer language asking that an inmate’s gender, not sex assigned at birth, be considered when assigning them to a housing facility. 

October 2018

  • The New York Times reported that the HHS had sent out a memo announcing an effort to change the legal definition of “sex” in a way that could define “transgender” out of existence. “Sex means a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth,” the memo read. “The sex listed on a person’s birth certificate, as originally issued, shall constitute definitive proof of a person’s sex unless rebutted by reliable genetic evidence.” By June 2020, the HHS stripped protections from for gender identity and sex stereotyping from the Affordable Care Act discrimination rule. 
  • In a brief submitted by the Department of Justice, Solicitor General Noel Francisco wrote that Title IX doesn’t cover discrimination against people who identify as transgender. 
  • U.S. officials at the UN worked to eliminate the word “gender” from UN human rights documents. For example, this would mean changing “gender-based violence” to “violence against women,” effectively eliminating mention of violence against transgender people and, of course, anyone else who doesn’t identify as a woman. 

November 2018

The Office of Personnel Management erased nondiscrimination guidelines that outlined respectful treatment of transgender employees. This includes actions around restroom gender labels, name changes, dress codes, etc. 

December 2018

The HHS’s Office of Civil Rights granted an exemption to adoption and foster care agencies in several states, including Pennsylvania, Texas, and South Carolina, which allowed them to refuse services to aspiring LGBTQ+ aspiring caregivers and parents. 

April 2019

Trump’s ban on transgender troops in the military went into effect, which means that transgender people could not serve openly. This is still in effect today.

May 2019

  • The HHS announced a final rule to protect hospital officials, staff, and insurance companies to deny care to patients based on their religious beliefs. “Religious freedom will be enforced like every other civil rights law,” said OCR Director Roger Severino, via the HHS website. “This rule ensures that healthcare entities and professionals won’t be bullied out of the healthcare field because they decline to participate in actions that violate their conscience, including the taking of human life. Protecting conscience and religious freedom not only fosters greater diversity in healthcare, it’s the law.”
  • Trump said he opposed the passage of the Equality Act, a bill that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to federal civil rights law. 

July 2019

HUD published a rule allowing single-sex shelters to exclude transgender people from the facilities that correspond with their gender. 

January 2020

The Trump administration proposed nine rules that encouraged agencies to claim religious exemptions when denying help to people receiving federal funds. 

April 2020

The Department of Labor proposed a rule that would allow federal contractors to discriminate against employees who don’t share their religious views.

May 2020

June 2020

  • On the fourth anniversary of the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, the Trump administration finalized a rule that removed nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ Americans.
  • A June 2020 Supreme Court ruling also undercuts the Department of Labor’s proposed rule in April. “Any law, and I think there are dozens, that says you can’t discriminate because of sex is going to have a reckoning with this ruling,” said Paul Smith, a professor at Georgetown Law School, told the Times.

For more information on some of these actions, please consult the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE).