Remember, back in the olden days of late January 2017, when Sean Spicer and a host of other administration cronies promised that Trump was a steadfast ally of LGBT Americans, and that there were no anti-LGBT executive orders imminent? I guess Ivanka and Jared Kushner don’t have quite the sway so many people breathlessly attributed to them when they “convinced” the president to leave employment protections well enough alone amid the hubbub over a possible “religious freedom” executive order.
Judging by the quiet onslaught of rescinded guidance, executive orders, and census questions that recognize their existence, it appears President Trump and his yes-men at the Departments of Justice, Education, and Health and Human Services are hell-bent on not just erasing protections for queer people, but on erasing LGBT people from the public sphere altogether.
On Monday, Trump signed a new executive order that effectively overturns a pair of Obama-era orders that required federal contractors not to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. To be more precise, Trump’s Monday order rescinded a 2014 Obama EO that required federal contractors to report to the feds about their hiring practices. While the LGBT nondiscrimination order is technically still in place, as ThinkProgress’s Zack Ford explains, without an enforcement mechanism and mandated reporting, federal contractors are basically free to fire at will when they discover an employee is LGBT. And since there are no federal protections for LGBT workers, those who are fired because of their identity are left to fend for themselves if they want to challenge their termination on legal grounds.
Speaking of being left alone, that’s a sentiment that trans students, like 17-year-old Gavin Grimm, are likely feeling in the wake of the Justice Department’s decision to drop its support for Grimm’s argument that Title IX guaranteed him access to the boy’s restroom at his rural Virginia high school. That decision, in conjunction with the DOJ’s February announcement that it was rescinding the Obama-era guidance for schools hoping to support their transgender students, led the Supreme Court to remand Grimm’s case to the federal appeals court that ruled in his favor last year.
Grimm’s case was scheduled for oral argument before the high court this month, and the case had been fully briefed by the time the Court announced it was vacating the decision and remanding the case on March 6. On a macro scale, this leaves trans students, and everyone who knows or loves a trans person, still mired in legal uncertainty about which spaces trans folks may legally (not to mention safely) access. On a micro level, it ensures that Grimm will graduate high school without having his gender identity affirmed or being allowed to use the same bathroom as his peers—but having suffered the slings and arrows of his community’s violent, ignorant rhetoric, which apparently swayed the nation’s new top lawman.
To add insult to (real, demonstrable) injury, on Tuesday the U.S. Census Bureau “inadvertently” included a question about LGBT identity in its proposed draft for the 2020 Census. Within hours of publishing the draft, the Census Bureau had scrubbed the category from its draft questionnaire, and issued a statement apologizing for the mistake, according to The Washington Blade.
LGBT organizations have pushed back, with the National LGBTQ Task Force publishing the unredacted version of the draft, while the CEO of LGBT media watchdog GLAAD framed the “error” as the latest “disgusting entry to a long list of tactics [the Trump Administration has] adopted to legally deny services and legitimacy to hard-working LGBTQ Americans.”
“The Trump administration is trying hard to erase the LGBTQ community from the fabric of America,” added GLAAD CEO Sarah Kate Ellis in a Tuesday statement. “But visibility has always been one of the LGBTQ community’s greatest strengths.”
That may be true, and that’s likely why the new administration is seeking to quietly erase them. And while no one in the administration will come right out and say it, the logic behind this strategy is clear—and unoriginal.
Dictators, strongmen, and all manner of oppressive (dare I say fascist) regimes have long relied on erasing the existence, and thereby the humanity, of the “undesirables” they view as impediments to social, political, and cultural domination. Beginning with the purging of seemingly innocuous data (like, say, a White House webpage about LGBT rights), this kind of erasure is the first step toward the dehumanization necessary to justify the unthinkable. Because if LGBT Americans don’t exist in federal records, or courthouses, or schools and businesses and communities around the nation, then there’s no reason to protect them, and any efforts to do so will be easily dismissed as bleeding-heart liberal campaigns to waste our hard-earned tax dollars.
Maybe that’s what they meant by “Make America Great Again”?