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Tweets vs. Policy: Keeping an Eye on the Trump Administration’s LGBTQIA+ Record

Despite varied stances on the American Military Industrial Complex within the LGBTQIA+ community, many experienced a thrill of outrage upon reading President Trump’s series of tweets on Wednesday July 26, 2017. Trump’s tweets stated his intention to ban transgender individuals from serving in the military, although (as of this writing) he has not yet gone through the proper channels to actually implement or enforce the new policy. In the midst of this conversation, the crux of which specifically concerned which individuals the U.S. Government views as deserving of health care, and to a broader degree, which individuals it deems worthy of human rights, the Justice Department filed an amicus brief that is aimed directly at stripping employees of the right to be protected against workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. In this article, I will investigate the Justice Department’s action, particularly as it relates to the Pittsburgh queer community.

The papers filed by the Justice Department, under the direction of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, relate to Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. On Wednesday, The New York Times published a brief timeline of the trajectory of this section of the act to date. Though Title VII bars workplace discrimination on the basis of “race, color, religion, sex or national origin,” it does not explicitly include sexual orientation under the umbrella of “sex.” However, in 2015, under the Obama Administration, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ruled that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression was illegal. Because the Obama Administration’s interpretation was not federally binding, the new Justice Department can legally take measures to remove these protections.

Essentially, the Justice Department is taking a step to seek formal federal approval to discriminate against LGBTQIA+ individuals in the workplace, many of whom have already been granted protection by local jurisdictions. In addition to being relevant to queer communities across the nation, this measure holds particular resonance in Pittsburgh.

In 2016, the EEOC Pittsburgh’s Area Office filed the U.S. government’s first sex discrimination federal lawsuit on the basis of sexual orientation discrimination against the Scott Medical Health Center. The case pertained to an employee of the Center who was harassed by his supervisor about his sexual orientation. After U.S. District Judge Cathy Bissoon denied Scott Medical Health Center’s motion to dismiss the case, the federal court ruled in the employee’s favor, concluding, “That someone can be subjected to a barrage of insults, humiliation, hostility and/or changes to the terms and conditions of their employment, based upon nothing more than the aggressor’s view of what it means to be a man or a woman, is exactly the evil Title VII was designed to eradicate.” This case, as well as others across the nation, can be used to support LGBTQIA+ workplace protection efforts, and can function as a legal precedent to which courts defer, but it does not operate as formal legislation.

In the past, courts, especially those in Western Pennsylvania, have utilized Title VII to protect LGBTQIA+ employees against workplace discrimination. Now, the Justice Department is seeking to remove this protection by taking a public stance against it, officially filing court papers that would overturn a case that was previously ruled in favor of LGBTQIA+ rights, and indicating that Congress should pass formal legislation to ensure that Title VII does not extend to protection on the basis of sexual orientation.

While President Trump’s tweets may be infuriating, it’s important to continue to scrutinize the legislation that is forwarded silently as they take center stage. In the past six months, the President’s online presence has operated in conjunction with a sensational news cycle to obscure nuanced political matters, from conflict of interest claims, to various iterations of health care reform, to the Russia investigation. It is crucial to swiftly denounce and oppose the radical statements that garner mainstream attention, but it is equally important recognize that, as distractions, they are also often signaling the movement of legal actions that he and the rest of the administration hope will pass beneath the radar. We must continue to identify these issues, inform one another about them, and circulate news pertaining to them in order to strive for governmental transparency and promote action against injustice and oppression.  

This article originally appeared on QueerPgh.com. This article is preserved as a part of the Q Archives project. Please consider donating to help preserve Pittsburgh’s Queer history.