AUSTIN, Tex. — The Department of Justice (DOJ) under Donald Trump has made an about-face from the Obama days of expanding transgender rights. Two days after Attorney General Jeff Sessions was confirmed amidst heavy protest, the DOJ filed a brief that presents the first hint as to how the new administration will treat LGBTQ rights.
The context of the brief is the hot contention surrounding transgender students’ rights in federally-funded schools. In May of 2016, President Obama’s Education Department issued a guidance to educational institutions, to allow transgender students to use bathrooms and changing rooms according to their gender identities. This move was controversial, and twelve states led by Texas filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration for “overreach.”
The court sided with the states and issued an injunction on the order, which the DOJ appealed, requesting that the injunction only apply to the twelve states in question. Trump’s DOJ has withdrawn that request as of Feb. 10, and has canceled oral arguments slated for Feb. 14.
“The parties are currently considering how best to proceed in this appeal,” the brief reads.
LGBTQ advocates have spoken out against the DOJ’s recent move, which they read as a sign that the new administration may undermine LGBTQ rights.
“It is heartbreaking and wrong that the agency tasked with enforcing civil rights laws would instead work to subvert them for political interests,” said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin in a statement. “After being on the job for less than 48 hours, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has signaled his intent to undermine the equal dignity of transgender students… Transgender students are entitled to the full protection of the United States Constitution and our federal nondiscrimination laws.”
The shift illustrated by the DOJ’s newest brief is consistent with the history of newly-appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions was a controversial pick for the post, having been criticized by civil rights leaders and progressives alike.
“The chief lawyer of the United States is now someone who has devoted his whole life to obstructing civil rights,” Lambda Legal CEO Rachel B. Tiven said in a statement. “I have personally seen him be rude and dismissive toward LGBT families.”
The DOJ’s shifting attitude towards transgender rights comes at a time of great contention nationwide, as North Carolina’s “bathroom bill” has inspired other states to copycat. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear Virginia transgender student Gavin Grimm’s case against his school board this spring.