Sessions Denounced for 'Appalling Assault' on Transgender Workers' Rights

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Sessions Denounced for 'Appalling Assault' on Transgender Workers' Rights

"This DOJ has made it clear: Its explicit agenda is to attack and undermine the civil rights of our most vulnerable communities rather than standing up for them."

AG Jeff Sessions

Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a directive instructing the Department of Justice to no longer apply sex discrimination protections to transgender workers. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr/cc)

LGBTQ advocates on Thursday fiercely denounced a leaked directive from Attorney General Jeff Sessions that reversed a federal government policy protecting transgender workers from discrimination under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

"This despicable action of reversing protections for transgender people in the workplace is just another example of attempts by the Trump administration to deny tens of thousands of Americans equal rights."
—David Kilmnick, New York LGBT Network

"While scores of Americans are dying from natural disasters and gun violence, the Trump administration, instead of helping our nation come together, is continuing to try and tear it apart," said David Kilmnick, president and CEO of the New York LGBT Network. "This despicable action of reversing protections for transgender people in the workplace is just another example of attempts by the Trump administration to deny tens of thousands of Americans equal rights."

"Yet again, the Trump-Pence administration continues to unleash shameful attacks against the transgender community in an effort to promote their disgusting agenda of hate," said Sarah Warbelow, Human Rights Campaign legal director. "Sessions is openly directing the [Justice] Department to ignore their responsibilities in protecting the civil rights of all Americans. Transgender workers deserve to know their government will have their back when they're faced with discrimination."

Sessions' directive, obtained by BuzzFeed News, formally withdraws a 2014 memo from former Attorney General Eric Holder, and reportedly 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.... Although federal law, including Title VII, provides various protections to transgender individuals, Title VII does not prohibit discrimination based on gender identity per se.... 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.

The memo indicates the government will default to Sessions' interpretation of the law in all pending and future cases, BuzzFeed reports, "which could have far-reaching implications across the federal government and may result in the Justice Department fighting against transgender workers in court."

Rights groups and legal experts quickly refuted Sessions' analysis and expressed concerns that the memo would lead the members of the department to shirk their duty to protect workers from discrimination.

"The Sessions Justice Department must put its civil rights enforcement responsibilities above its divisive agenda and recognize that LGBTQ people deserve the full protection of our civil rights laws," said Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

"This announcement is the latest example of how the Trump administration and the Sessions Justice Department are undermining equal rights and dignity for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals," Gupta added, "and this one flies in the face of case law that has reached the opposite conclusion."

As Warbelow noted, "the DOJ's jaw-dropping policy conflicts with years of interpretation from both the U.S. Supreme Court and federal circuit courts."

"It's ironic for them to say this is law, and not policy," Sharon McGowan, a Lambda Legal attorney who formerly worked in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, told BuzzFeed. "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 text of Title VII, federal case law, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission all support interpreting and applying Title VII's prohibition on sex discrimination to cover the stark discrimination faced by transgender individuals."
—Kristen Clarke, Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

"The Sessions DOJ is trying to roll back the clock and pretend that the progress of the last decade hasn't happened," McGowan added.

"The text of Title VII, federal case law, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission all support interpreting and applying Title VII's prohibition on sex discrimination to cover the stark discrimination faced by transgender individuals," said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

"Transgender individuals are among some of our nation's most vulnerable communities and they experience discrimination in virtually every area of life based on their sex," Clarke said.  "Attorney General Sessions' actions today only further reinforce his hostility to civil rights and show that he is determined to roll back the fragile gains that have been made."

Other critics, including multiple members of Congress, turned to Twitter to condemn the move:

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