Sunday, March 12, 2017

Transgender Rights in the Trump Era... Or Not

By Louise A. Blum

Of all the bad news to come out of Capitol Hill these days, one particularly egregious item is something that’s not going to happen: the Supreme Court will not, after all, hear what would have been its first case dealing with transgender rights. In sidestepping this case, the Court has deferred to a president who has since his inauguration been named in 50 lawsuits. And it set another precedent as well: Gavin Grimm, a transgender boy living in Virginia will not be using the school bathroom any time soon. 

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One of the Obama initiatives targeted by Trump has been Obama’s expansion of Title IX to include the protection of transgender students. Transgender youth are a particularly vulnerable population, especially those in the early stages of their transition, when they cannot be clearly identified as belonging to either gender. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos showed some understanding of this, initially challenging Trump’s decision because she felt “uncomfortable” with the possible consequences of removing those protections. Given that 57% of transgender youth attempt suicide, this concern is certainly deserved. Unfortunately, DeVos did not feel “uncomfortable” enough to stand up to the combined forces of Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump. Once she caved, it threw the decision-making back to the states, meaning that whether a trans person can use a bathroom depends on what state they happen to be in at the time. Pennsylvania, for example, has no state-level protections for transpeople. So if you’re unlucky enough to have to pee in the Northern Tier, you better head for New York fast. I imagine that if DeVos were similarly subjected to the difficulty faced by trans people in just using a restroom, she would feel even more “uncomfortable.”

Like DeVos, Trump didn’t appear to have much trouble with LGBTQ rights either; at least he didn’t last year. Now that he’s apparently sold his soul to the conservative Christian right, however, he would appear to be its mouthpiece. Since taking office, his presidency has been linked with any number of social conservative groups, including the Family Research Council, listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The FRC’s leader, Tony Perkins, not only has ties to white supremacists, but, in a tactic alarmingly similar to those used by McCarthy, called on the Trump administration to “ferret out” any employees at the State Department with LGBT ties and replace them with conservatives.

Although a quick search of Tom Reed’s website for any position on transgender issues turns up nothing, the Congressman has taken a stance in the past. In July of 2014, when Republicans were rallying their troops to rescind yet another Executive Order protecting the rights of the LGBT community, Tom Reed was courageous enough to vote in favor of the Order, an action which earned him a place on the Conservative Tribune’s list of “The 43 GOP Traitors Who Support Obama’s Transgender Agenda.” Just to illustrate the level of hysteria around this issue, the website referred to the vote as a “major move against bathroom safety in America.”

That Executive Order passed by one vote. One vote. That’s all it takes. So now our call to action is clear: to urge Tom Reed in every way we can to hold fast to that moral courage as Trump crumbles beneath the force of his increasingly conservative advisors.

Betsy DeVos couldn’t do it. Will Tom Reed be stronger? Or has he made a Faustian bargain of his own?


Louise A. Blum is a novelist and essayist living in Corning, NY. She is the author of the memoir, You’re Not From Around Here, Are You? A Lesbian in Small-Town America, and Amnesty, a novel. Her essay "Faith on the Front Lines," about her participation in the We Are Seneca Lake blockades, is forthcoming in the Spring 2017 issue of the Utne Reader. She writes about family, sexuality, activism and the environment and is currently working on a novel about the effects of fracking on one small town in rural Pennsylvania.

1 comment:

  1. Trump, Reed, DeVos, et al., are sure to dump on the most vulnerable to shore up support from extremists.