Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a man who is somehow still employed by the Trump administration, has written a memo that reverses an Obama-era policy change to the Civil Rights Act that protected transgender employees from discrimination in the workplace.
The memo, which was obtained by Buzzfeed News, reads “Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination encompasses discrimination between men and women but does not encompass discrimination based on gender identity per se, including transgender status.”
Sessions’s memo urges the Department of Justice to “interpret Title VII as written by Congress.” As it stands, Title VII addresses discrimination on the basis of sex. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a government agency that deals with civil rights in the workplace, determined that sex discrimination also includes discrimination based on gender identity and sex stereotyping. Working with this interpretation, Title VII also bans discrimination against transgender employees because they are transgender. In 2014, Obama’s Attorney Genral, Eric Holder issued a memo stating as such, allowing for a more generous, contemporary and thoughtful interpretation of the law. Sessions’s memo effectively strips Title VII of any important nuance—part of his attempt to help Trump make America great again via regressive policies and practices.
Part of the beauty of the law is how open it is to interpretation—designed that way to allow for growth and shifting definitions. Sessions’s Justice Department is intent on kicking progress in the teeth: In his mind, Title VII specifically protects “men and women,” meaning that the Justice Department could find itself up fighting its own employees in court.
“The Justice Department must and will continue to affirm the dignity of all people, including transgender individuals,” Sessions wrote in his memo. “Nothing in this memorandum should be construed to condone mistreatment on the basis of gender identity, or to express a policy view on whether Congress should amend Title VII to provide different or additional protections.”