The Trump administration will no longer protect transgender Americans from discrimination, according to a new interpretation of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act distributed in a memo Wednesday by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Sessions’ new guidance, obtained by BuzzFeed News, was circulated to U.S. attorneys and federal agency heads around the country. The new interpretation of the Act says it applies only to discrimination against men and women.
“As a law enforcement agency, the Department of Justice must interpret Title VII as written by Congress,” the memo said. “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.”
He called the decision one “of law, not policy,” since he argues that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on given sex — not identity. Officially protecting transgender people under the act only came in 2014 when Attorney General Eric Holder under President Barack Obama declared that the best interpretation defended everyone regardless of their identity.
Sessions has taken gradual steps toward dismantling the decision since he took office February 8. His first month in office included pulling another Obama-era legislation that allowed transgender students to use restrooms corresponding to their respective gender identities.
And the Department of Justice over the summer argued in federal court that Title VII should not extend protection to gay people either. It filed a 36-page amicus brief in a private employment-dispute case that argued being gay could present grounds for firing.
“As the courts have long held, discrimination based on sexual orientation does not fall within Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination because it does not involve ‘disparate treatment of men and women,’” the Department of Justice wrote in its argument, saying that as long as men and women who identified as gay were both fired, this was not considered discrimination.
This stance contradicted the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which formed to prevent workplace discrimination. But Sessions said in his new message that “nothing in this memorandum should be construed to condone mistreatment on the basis of gender identity” and that his message was nonpartisan — he claimed to just be following the legislation as written.
“The Department of Justice will take that position in all pending and future matters (except where controlling lower-court precedent dictates otherwise, in which event the issue should be preserved for potential future review),” the memo said. “The Justice Department must and will continue to affirm the dignity of all people, including transgender individuals.”