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Top LGBT legal experts agreed that the first year of the Trump administration has been anything but LGBT-friendly – and warned that the worst could be soon to come. In fact, circle February 21 on the calendar. That is the day the Trump administration has said it will announce how it will implement a court-ordered ban allowing transgender people to serve in the military.
“This really is make or break. I can’t stress how devastating it will be if we lose this case and the ripple effect it will have across a whole range of issues for the transgender community,” attorney Shannon Price Minter, legal director of the National Center of Lesbian Rights, said during a panel looking at “The Current State of LGBT Law Under the Trump Administration” on Saturday during the Midyear Meeting in Vancouver. “I do not feel the least bit complacent about public opinion continuing to remain with us if we are not absolutely vigilant and aggressive about counteracting any distorted, confusing lies that I think we are about to see on February 21.”
Minter and fellow panelists, Associate Judge Phyliss Frye of the Houston Municipal Courts, and attorney Jennifer Levi, transgender rights project director for GLAD, talked about recent gains and setbacks to LGBT law but it was the Trump administration’s ban on transgender people serving in the military that dominated the discussion.
Last July, President Donald Trump in a tweet reversed an Obama administration policy allowing transgender service members to serve openly and begin enlisting in January 2018. The directive was to take affect March 28 and would have blocked military recruitment of transgender people and forced the dismissal of current transgender service members. It also said transgender people would no longer be provided gender transition-related health care in the military. Several lawsuits were filed in August by GLAD and NCLR on behalf of six active-duty transgender service members.
The federal courts blocked the proposed military ban until the case could be resolved. The administration appealed the rulings, but in December withdrew those appeals and said transgender people can begin enlisting on Jan. 1. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has said the Pentagon would establish a new policy on transgender by Feb. 21.
What concerns the panelists is just what that policy will be.
“At the moment, the ban is halted but at the same time the administration has not backed off on the fact that they intend to defend the ban in court,” said Levi.
“This administration is masterful at creating a lot of misinformation that is strategic and can be problematic. We don’t know what their recommendations will be but there is a real chance they are going to try to reinstate the ban in some other format that makes it harder to both understand that there is a ban and to also set transgender people squarely in the sights of the administration to suggest that allowing transgender people to serve in the military is problematic,” said Levi.
Levi pointed out that the Republican National Committee on Feb. 2 adopted a resolution supporting Trump’s attempt to ban transgender people from military service.
“It seems really clear and based on the RNC resolution that this is an area where transgender people are very much coming within the crosshairs of this administration,” Levi said. “If the ban survives, we will see the sentiment behind the ban being used to justify excluding transgender people from a whole range of different areas.”
Minter believes that the Trump administration is very aware that a victory on the military transgender issue could make it easier to rollback other LGBT gains.
“I think they know very well that if they succeed in getting the courts to uphold this ban the negative ramifications for transgender people in other areas is going to be really extreme, everything you can think of from access to health care, employment discrimination, family law,” Minter said.
Judge Frye, the first openly transgender to be appointed to the bench, said that while there has already been a huge loss of LGBT rights under the new administration she fears the recent appointment of conservative-leaning judges to the federal courts is concerning.
“What scares me the most is the judges that Trump is putting on the bench right now and they are going to be on the bench for a long time,” Frye said. “I’m afraid it’s going to get real nasty out there.”
“The Current State of LGBT Law Under the Trump Administration” was sponsored by the Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. D’Arcy Kemnitz, executive director of the National LGBT Bar Association, served as moderator for the panel.