Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions was confirmed as Attorney General in a nearly party-line vote by Republicans this past Thursday. His first act as head of the Justice Department was as deplorable as we feared, indicating that the government will be actively discriminating against LGBTQ people, disenfranchising minorities and rolling back American civil rights
With the stroke of a pen, Jeff Sessions’ “so-called” Justice Department called off a hearing meant to uphold laws preventing transgender bathroom discrimination in 38 states from staying in force indefinitely while landmark litigation slowly works its way through the court system.
President Obama’s DOJ issued rules protecting the rights of transgender students; twelve states sued to block it. The cancelled hearing was where the Justice Department was previously planning to argue that the rules should still apply to the 38 remaing states.
— Equality Case Files (@EQCF) February 11, 2017
Ironically, the newly Republican Justice Department decided to cancel planned Valentines’ Day arguments, and as the Washington Blade reports, the Human Rights Campaign is unhappy with their efforts:
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, placed the blame of the brief seeking to undermine the transgender student protections squarely with Sessions. “After being on the job for less than 48 hours, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has signaled his intent to undermine the equal dignity of transgender students,” Griffin said.
“Transgender students are entitled to the full protection of the United States Constitution and our federal nondiscrimination laws. It is heartbreaking and wrong that the agency tasked with enforcing civil rights laws would instead work to subvert them for political interests. President Trump must immediately reverse course and direct the DOJ to uphold guidance protecting transgender students.”
After North Carolina Republicans, led by despicable former Governor Pat McRory, passed HB2 – a blatantly pro-LGBTQ discrimination and bathroom bill – President Obama directed the Justice Department to issue Title IX guidance to schools about gender and bathroom laws.
The Obama Administration’s legal guidance says that one of the protected categories in the law prevents discrimination based upon a person’s sex, which seems a logical argument to apply towards people whose sex or gender identity may be in need of adjustment to match a person’s inner identity.
Importantly, any school who defies Obama’s guidance may still be held liable in a private lawsuit under Title IX, and one in which compensatory damages and attorney’s fees may be paid by the loser of the case. For example, there’s a Virginia case filed by a transgender student facing bathroom discrimination, which is still ongoing despite the Republican DOJ changing course.
As shameful as the Justice Department’s first official act under Jeff Sessions’ stewardship might be, it also was sadly expected after statements made during the divisive Republican primary. Donald Trump told the Washington Post last May – before winning the GOP’s presidential nomination – that he would seek to rescind Obama’s Title IX guidance on education discrimination.
There is now little standing in the way of transgender students from being swept up in a renewed GOP crusade of Christian heteronormativity.
The Justice Department’s decision to skip a long-scheduled oral argument in court likely signals the start of a new Republican culture war, driven by our new Attorney General. If Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Department of Justice completely abandons the human rights of LGBTQ Americans, we’ll begin to see a profusion of these private actions across America filed by groups like the Lambda Legal Fund.
Luckily, Title IX still stands as the law of the land in America, and it allows private individuals suffering from discrimination to take their case to federal court – and to do so before exhausting all other local remedies.
Expect the courts to be very busy in the upcoming months as America’s transgendered students are forced pursue equal rights and justice against their own schools.
Grant Stern is the Executive Editor of Occupy Democrats and published author. His new Meet the Candidates 2020 book series is distributed by Simon and Schuster. He's also mortgage broker, community activist and radio personality in Miami, Florida., as well as the producer of the Dworkin Report podcast. Grant is also an occasional contributor to Raw Story, Alternet, and the DC Report, and an unpaid senior advisor to the Democratic Coalition.