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Transmissions: Uniformly bad

by Gwendolyn Ann Smith

Illustration: Christine Smith
Illustration: Christine Smith  

Since before last year's election, many have warned of trans law's precarious position at the federal level. While great strides were made during the Obama years on behalf of our community, a lot of those wins were not legislative, but administrative, consisting of policy changes and legal interpretations that sided with the transgender community.

In the last few months, the Trump administration has gone into hyperdrive, working to reverse these rules. These moves started within weeks of President Donald Trump taking office, with the administration rescinding protections for transgender students in February. It would seem that his education secretary, Betsy DeVos, intends to keep things this way, even intending to return the department's civil rights office to "its role as a neural, impartial, investigative agency." While I might contend that it has been such, reading between the lines makes it clear that this â€" as well as recent plans to massively cut funding for education â€" will all but gut civil rights protections within the Department of Education.

The story is the same elsewhere in the administration, where many department heads have a history of anti-transgender and anti-LGBTQ stances. A recent addition to the Office of Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment in the U.S. Agency for International Development is Bethany Kozma, an anti-LGBTQ activist who has been outspoken in her opposition to bathroom rights for transgender youth. The very notion of seeing transgender people treated fairly in any way within this administration is simply off the table.

I wish I could tell you that there is a silver lining, but a bleak story has gotten even drearier.

A victory last week in Congress, which saw an attempt by Representative Vicky Hartzler (R-Missouri) to ban the coverage of transition-related health care for transgender troops fail in the House of Representatives has been quickly overshadowed by a far more insidious bill, one that â€" quite frankly â€" should scare us all.

Sponsored by Representative Pete Olson (R-Texas), HR 2796, aka the Civil Rights Uniformity Act of 2017, may be one of the most discriminatory bills since the Sodomite Suppression Act was axed from consideration in California by then-Attorney General Kamala Harris.

The bill claims to be about repealing "executive overreach," and states, "the proper constitutional authority for social transformation belongs to the legislative branch." That, however, is but the start.

Citing work under former President Barack Obama to define "sex" inclusive of gender identity, including the landmark interpretation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as efforts within the Department of Education to allow transgender students use of appropriate sex-segregated facilities in accordance with their preferred gender, and the Department of Health and Human Service's regulations that saw transgender people covered in the Affordable Care Act, HR 2796 seeks to reverse all of the above and then some.

Now mind you, this is not some general law about overreach, attempting to provide some nebulous guidance on the divisions between the legislative and administrative branches of our government. No, this bill has two stated purposes, and both are pointed directly at transgender people.

"The purposes of this act are ... to prevent the executive branch from unilaterally rewriting federal civil rights laws by enacting or implementing any policy or undertaking any enforcement action that is based on construing the term 'sex' or 'gender' to mean 'gender identity;' and ... to ensure that gender identity is not treated as a protected class in federal law or policy without the affirmative approval of the people's representatives in Congress," the bill states.

It actually gets worse.

The final section of this bill has three specific things it seeks to put into place. First, it seeks to redefine "sex" and "gender" in "any federal civil rights law, and of any related ruling, regulation, guidance, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States" not to be interpreted in a trans inclusive manner, and further restricts "man" and "woman" to "a person's genetic sex."

Second, prohibiting federal civil rights law from allowing transgender people to be part of a protected class unless expressly designated as such.

Finally, it further clarifies that "federal civil rights law" is inclusive of "any federal law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex or gender," and specifically notes Title IX, the Fair Housing Act, and the Affordable Care Act.

What this insidious piece of legislation seeks to do is strip transgender people of any and all federal law protections. And this from the party that has claimed for eight years that rights should be up to the states, and not the federal government.

As it stands, this bill was introduced to the House of Representatives, and is currently in the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice. It could die in committee â€" but I don't think any one of us feels confident enough to sit back and let that happen.

On the subcommittee are Steve Cohen (D-Tennessee), Ron DeSantis (R-Florida), Trent Franks (R-Arizona), Louie Gohmert Jr. (R-Texas), Trey Gowdy (R-South Carolina), Steve King (R-Iowa), Jerrold Nadler (D-New York), and Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland). If any of these represent you, you need to contact them immediately. You can use sites like http://www.contactingcongress.org to make this easier. Further, reach out to any others who can speak out. We need everyone we can.

I don't feel I am being overly dramatic saying that a bill like this would be the death knell to the transgender community, and each of us. We need to do everything we can to stop this, before it stops us.

 

Gwen Smith is in it for the long haul. You can find her at www.gwensmith.com.

 

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