September 19, 2019
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Targeted assault on transgender Americans highlights need for Equality Act

Joy Asico | AP
Joy Asico | AP
U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-MA 4th District) speaks at the Fight the Ban: A Rally to Support Transgender Troops on Wednesday, April 10, 2019 in Washington.

Three times in one week, the Trump administration issued rules and proposals to take rights and protections away from transgender Americans. This is a targeted assault on an already vulnerable group of people that should concern all Americans.

Last Tuesday, the administration finalized a rule that allows health care workers to refuse to treat transgender patients based on religious objections. On Wednesday, it announced draft rules that would allow homeless shelters that receive federal funds to turn away transgender individuals.

And, in the most sweeping anti-transgender move yet, the administration last Friday, released a proposal that would gut patient protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity that were included in the Affordable Care Act. The same proposal would also eliminate protections from discrimination for women who have had abortions.

These come on top of a Pentagon ban on transgender Americans serving in the military and a reversal of policy ensuring that transgender students were protected from discrimination in public schools and universities.

The Trump administration’s assault on transgender Americans is prime evidence of why the Equality Act is needed now more than ever. Because the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not include protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity, the LGBTQ community — which often experiences discrimination and intolerance — still has little to no recourse in some states when confronting barriers to housing, education, employment and other critical areas of everyday life.

The Equality Act would extend protections based on sexual orientation to employment, housing, public accommodations and public services.

The measure passed the House earlier this month. It faces dim prospects in the Senate.

Sen. Susan Collins is the act’s lone Republican sponsor in the Senate, with only a handful of Republicans signing on in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“All Americans deserve a fair opportunity to pursue the American dream,” Collins said when the Equality Act was introduced in March. “It is time we ensure that all people are judged on their talents and abilities, and have full access to the services they need and the opportunities they seek.”

Without other Republicans on board, the legislation isn’t likely to lead to meaningful change. That’s a shame, because expanding these protections is a necessary continuation of efforts to make America a place where all people are treated equally.

As Katelyn Burns pointed out Wednesday in The Washington Post, all of the political and civil rights gains made by the transgender community over the past decade have been erased in the past two years.

“For me, as a transgender person, this administration’s constant targeting of us is terrifying,” wrote Burns, the first openly transgender Capitol Hill reporter. “It seems that there’s little they won’t do to making transitioning and living a dignified life as a transgender person impossible. Trump and his administration are clearly prioritizing the desires of religious conservatives who would like to see my existence rubbed out of society, and they’ve come this far so quickly with barely a blip of resistance. [The] attack on our health care is the most devastating yet.”

Maine, fortunately, has a strong Human Right Act that broadly prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In their first bill this year, Maine lawmakers passed legislation, which was signed into law by Gov. Janet Mills, that prohibits discrimination against LGBTQ people by health insurance companies.

It is encouraging that Maine, and other states, have taken these steps. But, without federal policies demanding that all Americans be treated equally, the rights of some groups, which may be disfavored by a president, can be diminished. That should worry all of us.

 



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