American politics often makes me feel like I’m looking through a keyhole, only ever seeing parts of the full picture. The past four years of Donald Trump’s presidency have certainly highlighted this when it comes to the subject of LGBT rights. Headlines and social media posts only ever mention what new bill has been passed, while neglecting to discuss its true impact or how it has made America regress regarding equal rights.
Trump’s Trans Military Ban
On July 26th, 2017, just six months into his presidency, Donald Trump tweeted: “After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.” One tweet, which caught everyone from the Pentagon to Capitol Hill off-guard, began the Trump administration’s 18-month-long process of banning trans individuals from enlisting in the military.
Despite the Trump administration’s inability to provide a single piece of evidence as to how the transgender service members threaten or undermine national security, on March 12th, 2019, the US Department of Defense released a memorandum with the details of the ban, citing national security concerns. This ban resulted in a tidal wave of destruction, not only for America’s trans community but the military as well. A previous 2014 study carried out by the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) revealed that of the estimated 150,000 transgender people in the United States, 21 percent had already served in the military. Donald Trump’s new ruling, however, would mean that any of these individuals “newly discovered to have a transgender body, identity or history” would be unable to continue serving. Such a ruling was bound to have dire effects on the US Military because of the sheer amount of personnel subject to discharge.
Discrimination in the Workplace
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, introduced initially by John. F. Kennedy and made law by Lyndon. B. Johnson, has made workplace discrimination on the grounds of gender identity illegal since 2014, during Obama’s second term. Despite this, in October 2017, two and a half months after Trump’s surprise tweet, the Department of Justice (DOJ) reversed this policy. This decision not only helped facilitate Trump’s trans military ban, but it also made hundreds of thousands of transgender Americans susceptible to discrimination within the workplace. The DOJ’s decision also left people vulnerable to discrimination in the workplace on the grounds of sexual orientation.
2021, however, is looking bright for any transgender individual with hopes of enlisting with the United States military. As Commander in Chief, President Joe Biden is able to follow through with his plans to repeal the ban. Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA) has taken a leading role in helping to overturn the ban. In an interview in May 2020, Speier expressed her disgust with the policy, stating, “What we did was just so wrong on so many levels.” Two months later, on July 30th, an amendment to the 2021 Defense Appropriation Bill, initially put forward by Speier, was approved. The revolutionary amendment would block the Pentagon from using congressionally-approved funds to implement such severe restrictions on trans people’s military service.
Five days after assuming office, President Biden overturned the exclusion of trans personnel in a new executive order. This restored the rules regarding trans military service to their Obama-era iterations. In a statement published on the White House website, President Biden stated, “It is my conviction as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces that gender identity should not be a bar to military service.” He also went on to debunk arguments that allowing trans people to serve would be a financial burden on the military, a change that was warmly welcomed by trans people following four years of regression under the 45th president.
Discrimination in Schools
Trump has not only targeted America’s trans community through the military ban and rollbacks on anti-discrimination protections in the workplace; he has also wielded discriminatory influence over the treatment of transgender youth in education. Guidance from the Obama administration had previously allowed students to use bathrooms that corresponded with their gender identity rather than their biological sex. This right was challenged initially in February 2017 by a Texas District Court. The Trump DOJ then withdrew a previous decision that asked the court to lift its stay on the matter. This led to Trump reversing the Obama-era directive, which had already received legal challenges from 13 states. While this reversal was not an executive order, it meant that states could decide their own policies on the issue. This increased the amount of discrimination experienced by trans students in public schools because of the ability for states to insist that students used bathrooms that correspond with their sex at birth.
The Republican Party’s true ignorance towards LGBT rights was revealed during a review of the policy. When responding to a question from Representative Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), then-Education Secretary Betsy DeVos admitted that the guidance was rolled back despite her knowledge that discrimination leads to poor grades, lower attendance, and depression. When told about a study into suicide rates among trans youth, conducted by the American Association of Pediatrics, which proved that more than half of trans boys and 29.9% of trans girls had attempted suicide, DeVos acknowledged that she had been “aware of that data” when the guidance was rolled back.
Discrimination has also been rife in America’s public schools through the targeting of transgender athletes, particularly trans women, sparking debate in the Senate and the House of Representatives. In December, Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) introduced a bill into the House which would remove funding for any public school allowing trans females to participate in sporting programs designed only for individuals who were assigned female at birth. Similar legislation has also been introduced by former senator Kelly Loeffler and current congresswoman Majorie Taylor Greene, both Republicans from Georgia.
Gabbard’s bill is not only transphobic but actively goes against protections of Title IX, part of the Education Amendments of 1972. Title IX states that individuals cannot be prohibited from participating in an educational activity on the basis of sex if that activity receives federal funding. According to Gabbard “Title IX is being weakened by some states who are misinterpreting it.” This provides evidence to suggest that not only the departure of Trump but also the Republican loss of the Senate and House of Representatives can only be a good thing for America’s LGBT community. Even as some new transphobic bills are being introduced by Democrats, the Democratic majority has the margins necessary to prevent their implementation.
Discrimination in Hospitals and Homes
Trump has also taken steps to reduce protections for the LGBT community of America at large, not just trans people. As a parting ‘gift,’ Donald Trump and his administration successfully removed anti-discrimination protections on January 7th, 2021. The new laws allow those that receive grants from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to discriminate against people because of their gender identity or sexuality. An 86-page document released by the HHS now states: “It is a public policy requirement of HHS that no person otherwise eligible will be excluded from participation in, denied the benefits of, or subjected to discrimination in the administration of HHS programs and services, to the extent doing so is prohibited by federal statute.” Although the regulations state that discrimination is “prohibited by federal statute,” the LGBT community is not included in this federal statute.
Trump’s parting ‘gift’ will have disastrous effects, not only for the LGBT community but for children who need to be adopted, too. Regulations now don’t make it a requirement of adoption agencies to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples. A report published by the Williamson Institute at UCLA, using information from the 2014-2016 American community survey, recognized that 21 percent of same-sex couples were raising adopted children compared to just 3 percent of straight couples. These statistics show that the new regulations from the HHS target the LGBT community and will have detrimental effects on the social progress of American society regarding anti-discrimination policies.
Policies and executive orders can be repealed and overturned; however, the permanent actions of Donald Trump will continue to affect America’s LGBT population following Joe Biden’s inauguration. The Supreme Court now holds a six to three conservative majority, with three nominations made by Donald Trump. It is known that one of Trump’s nominees, Brett Kavanaugh, dissented from a majority opinion that argued LGBT people should be protected under Title VII, saying that decisions about the matter should be left to Congress. Had Kavanaugh’s opinion been that of the majority, the removal of Title VII protections would have had serious consequences for the LGBT community.
Four years of prejudice and discrimination at the hands of Donald Trump and his administration has already shown quite how much damage has been done to America’s LGBT community; however, the release of presidential papers in 12 years’ time will reveal the full extent of Donald Trump’s actions. Despite Trump’s claims that he was the best president for the LGBT community, actions taken by both him and his party have shown this simply is not the case. The national Youth Behaviour Risk Study shows that 40% of American LGBT high schoolers have considered suicide, a scary statistic that will not have been aided by discrimination at the hands of the American government.
Only time will tell how far Joe Biden will take America in its journey for LGBT equality, although if the Obama-Biden administration and the last two weeks with Biden as president are anything to go by, there is hope for the reclamation of equal rights and the reversal of Trump’s damage.