Gay rights groups feel they are under siege

Gay rights groups feel they are under siege
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Groups that advocate for LGBT rights increasingly feel that they are under assault from the Trump administration.

The advocates say the administration is mounting a wide-ranging campaign against gay rights that is wiping away many of the policy gains they made under President Obama.

“I really see what the Trump administration is doing as being easily the most anti-LGBT administration in at least a generation,” said Ian Thompson, a legislative representative at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

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“They are hard at work trying to dismantle and erase every gain LGBT people have made since 2009.”

The defeats for LGBT advocates have come in quick succession.

In February, Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsFederal judge rules Trump defunding sanctuary cities 'unconstitutional on its face' FBI informant gathered years of evidence on Russian push for US nuclear fuel deals, including Uranium One, memos show Alabama election has GOP racing against the clock MORE and Education Secretary Betsy DeVosElizabeth (Betsy) Dee DeVosOvernight Regulation: Senate tax bill to include ObamaCare mandate repeal | Sessions sidesteps questions on WH influence on AT&T merger | Dems seek more transparency on student borrower rule Dems call on DeVos to make rewrite of student protection rule public Today’s education system is perfectly designed for no one MORE rolled back Obama-era guidance that allowed transgender people to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.

In August, President Trump ordered the Department of Defense to stop accepting transgender people in the military, following a series of tweets announcing the policy change a month earlier.

Last month, the administration filed a Supreme Court brief in support of a Colorado baker who says he shouldn’t be forced under the state’s anti-discrimination laws to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding.

Last week, Sessions reversed course on an Obama-era policy that extended sex discrimination protections in the workplace to transgender people, stating in a memo leaked to BuzzFeed that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act does not cover “gender identity, including transgender status.”

And on Friday, Sessions issued guidance for federal agencies on protecting religious liberty in employment, contracting and programming. Critics denounced the order as allowing religious organizations to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The actions run counter to increasing public support for LGBT rights. A Gallup Poll in May found that half of Americans, 51 percent, favor new civil rights laws to protect LGBT people. A January Harris Poll survey found that 62 percent of adults oppose state laws that repeal or overturn local or city LGBT anti-discrimination laws and ban cities from passing similar protections in the future.

Advocates, meanwhile, say the administration’s actions are a far cry from Trump’s campaign promise to “fight” for the LGBT community.

But Log Cabin Republicans, the most prominent LGBT group on the right, disagrees.

The group said it opposes Trump’s call to ban transgender people from the military and called Sessions’s newly released guidance on religious liberty unnecessary, but said it isn’t ready to turn its back on the president just yet.

Gregory Angelo, president of the Log Cabin Republicans, pushed back against claims the LGBT community is under attack.

When Trump promised to protect LGBT people during his speech at the GOP convention, Angelo said it was in the context of radical Islamic terrorism following a mass shooting weeks before at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

“And to that end the Trump administration has fulfilled that promise,” he said.

He also noted Trump’s recent nomination of Richard Grenell, an openly gay man, to serve as ambassador to Germany.

“That’s not something that an anti-gay firebrand would do,” Angelo said.

The administration’s actions, he claims, signal that the gains in LGBT equality will be advanced through legislation rather than executive action, something Log Cabin Republicans have long advocated for.

Angelo acknowledged that congressional Republicans appear unlikely to move gay rights legislation but said that could change if groups on the left spend more time directly engaging and lobbying with Republicans.

Social conservatives also dispute that the administrations is targeting LGBT people.

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins defended the administration’s actions on religious liberty and called LGBT advocates “self-absorbed.”

“The idea, because he’s doing what he said he’s going to do, that he’s acting with animosity toward a particular segment of society is not based on fact or reality,” he said.

Perkins said Trump is fulfilling his campaign promises to protect Americans’ religious freedoms and called it “nonsense” for people to think that Obama-era policies were permanent.

“Elections have consequences,” he said. “I would argue the views Trump won with were certainly more mainstream. What’s shocking is we have a president who is actually keeping his promises.”

But Vanita Gupta, who led the civil rights division of the Department of Justice under Obama, said the courts were first to advance the civil rights for LGBT people.

Every single decision and guidance on LGBT matters that Obama issued had jurisprudential backing, Gupta said.

“I don’t know of a single situation where the Justice Department went out ahead of the courts,” said Gupta, who now serves as president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

She said advances in civil rights law have largely happened through the evolving interpretations of the courts.

“Congress can certainly act to ensure civil rights laws protect sexual orientation status, but rights exist in part when courts interpret existing statutes,” she said.

And while conservatives may argue that the Trump administration’s actions are merely the consequences of the election, Gupta says the upheaval in policy isn’t typical.

“DOJ has decided to advocate actively for the undermining or nonexistence of rights,” she said. “That’s the difference. It’s not just reversing rights, but advocating for fewer protections for LGBT folks.”

The Department of Justice rebutted Gupta's charge, noting Sessions's remarks at a summit on hate crimes in June. Sessions at the summit noted he had met with the department's senior leadership and the Civil Rights Division to discuss a spate of murders of transgender people.

The attorney general said he had directed the Civil Rights Division to work with the United States Attorney’s Offices and the FBI to identify ways the Department can support the state and local law enforcement authorities investigating incidents of hate crimes against LGBT people.

"The Attorney General receives periodic updates on this working group," a DOJ official said. 

"The group provides state and local jurisdictions with conducting investigations, provides additional resources, and reviews evidence for the existence of bias and possible prosecution."

- This story was updated at 9:42 a.m.